The first Pitch Perfect film got away with a lot of its glaring flaws simply because it was something a little bit different, or at least the same stuff served as part of a slightly different package. It had a primarily female cast, upbeat music and stuck it all in a rude comedy geared towards an audience who’d only rarely been targeted by the genre before.
But 2012 was a very different time, when musicals were still in the zeitgeist both on the big and small screen, and the question of whether an appetite for another Pitch Perfect really exists three years later tentatively hangs over this sequel. Based on the final product, the answer’s probably no, because it feels as if even those involved have fallen out of love with the concept.
We start with a joke about Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) vagina – a joke that involves the President of the United States – and, instead of leaving the gag there as an opening taste of what’s in store, that one joke fuels the entire plot of the film. ‘Muffgate’, as its quickly dubbed, knocks the Barden Bellas off their perch as three time national champions, making them the disgraces of the acapella world and forcing them to redeem themselves at an upcoming international competition.
Now this is a film that can admittedly exist on the flimsiest of premises, so the competition is as good a reason as any for them to work towards the familiar make or break finale.
Alongside this, graduation for the majority of the group’s members is looming, and Beca (Anna Kendrick) starts an internship at a record label run by Keegan Michael Key. Much of the film’s best comedy comes from scenes spent at Beca’s internship, and there’s another movie there that’s never given the time it deserves. It, like so many of the film’s other subplots, gets dropped half-way through.
The graduation thing is the source of Pitch Perfect 2’s biggest problem, in that it has to do the awkward dance of trying to seamlessly introduce new characters without signposting them too obviously as the next generation. This usually happens in the third film of a series, and so it feels especially strange here.
Enter Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, a blank canvas of a character who never shows off a personality outside of a few weird outbursts of forced eccentricity. Emily is the only new Bella to be introduced in the movie but, together, there’s still not enough time to devote to her and the fan favourites without both halves of the film coming off half-baked. It’s baffling why the time-jump is so huge in the first place.
The film’s also alarmingly offensive with its humour. It goes beyond the slightly ‘edgy’ racism, stereotyping and dodgy gender politics of the first, peppered throughout in a way that stops the nastiness from being as noticeable, and puts it in the mouths of characters you’re supposed to like.
There’s an argument for the token bigot – John Michael Higgins as the commentator – but he only gets a portion of the offending lines. There’s no attempt to subvert these preconceptions outside of Fat Amy, which admittedly only works some of the time, and a lot of the background Bellas are reduced to irredeemable, completely pointless, clichés.
There’s one winner, though, and that’s Amy. Undoubtedly the first film’s breakout character, there’s a concerted effort here to actually give her an arc and a personality beyond the running joke. She gets the love story with former squeeze Bumper, and it’s as close as the film gets to genuine sweetness.
While I’m glad the film chose to focus on Amy and Bumper as the central love story, because there’s a lot to love there when taken by itself, rather than break up Beca and Skylar Astin’s Jesse, the unfortunate side effect of that is less of Astin on screen at all. The one number performed by The Treble Makers was probably the best of the film, along with one underground riff-off that’s a little bit spectacular.The competition numbers, along with those performed by the Bellas, are all underwhelming in contrast even to the first movie’s offerings. The film loses interest in the plot in an eagerness to hit every in-joke possible, and it never gets it back. There are two training montages – two! – and the way the film leaves its characters will probably make the prospect of a third movie entirely uninviting even for fans.
There’s fun to be had, actual laughs and moments that work, but overall everything feels a bit flat and, worse, its unpleasantness makes everything else feel completely disingenuous. There’s nothing worse for a comedy-musical to be than insincere, even if it’s poking fun at itself the whole time.
Pitch Perfect 2 is a film that will likely work fine for its target audience, but anyone searching for a bit more heart or self-awareness than the first time around will be sorely disappointed.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.