If it weren’t for Anna Kendrick, “Pitch Perfect 2” would be a dreary, half-funny, catchy but predictable flick. Its paint-by-numbers plot adds nothing to the genre in which a plucky underdog (team or person) finds (themselves, redemption, meaning), fights (racism, sexism, economic hardship), and solves relational problems with their (father, mother, boyfriend) simply by nearly losing and then rallying to win a competition in (dancing, singing, racing, or sportsing).
Kendrick returns as Beca, the leader of the Barden Bellas, an acapella choir-slash-sorority-slash feminine support group that came out of nowhere to dominate a capella in the prior film. It’s not all daisies in a capella-land, however.
The film starts with a humiliating performance which results in the Bellas being banned from all competition (more on that later). Their only shot at redemption is to win the world championship. To make matters worse, their sisterhood is threatened by various rifts which are only highlighted by the arrival of a gung-ho, wide-eyed innocent named Emily (Hailee Steinfeld).
That’s enough drama to keep any movie afloat, but just in case, a rival German singing group storms on the scene, with military precision dancing and industrial pop singing.
Pretty Much Nothing Going On But Anna Kendrick
To be sure, as the film ticks through each of the plot points from initial disappointment to success to crushing disappointment to triumph, it makes fun of itself. It winks at over-stylized routines, nods at overly dramatic musical love scenes. Still, it doesn’t go far enough to be a full “Blades of Glory”-type spoof or ironic enough to be truly subversive.
It feels like exactly what you’d expect, with some finger-snapping music and some predictable jokes, until Kendrick comes on stage. She’s a funny, charming everygirl stuck in a circus of a story and trying to make the best of it. When she’s funny, she’s hilarious, and when she sings, you believe it.
Singing is what it’s all about. The first movie rode on the power of its music, and this follow-up tries to do the same. There are various competitions, the best being a Thunderdome-type sing-off in the basement of a wealthy madman played by David Cross. At other times, the girls sing together for love of music. Most of it, however, falls short of memorable. There is no “Cups” moment, a song so catchy that it’s destined to climb the charts. The music feels like a long episode of “Glee” or a grown up version of “High School Musical.”
Crass Humor a Bit Over the Edge
Quite grown-up, in fact. The film is rated PG-13, and all that rating comes from crass content. In the performance that opens the movie, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) splits her pants and hangs dangling, legs akimbo, for all the world to see the goods.
If you think I’m talking about her mooning the audience, honey, you’re so innocent. The movie does not show but makes it quite clear that her lady bits were exposed not only to the audience and those watching on TV, but also the president of the United States. The episode is repeatedly recounted in the film, with lots of jokes about muffins and so on.
Another riff has a commentator going on about “lady-boys” and Thailand. Even innocent-seeming Emily gets in on the act. Apparently, her mother can sing in five octaves. “You do not want to hear that woman doing it with my dad,” Emily says.
The crass humor is woven throughout and it’s quite funny, to be honest. The thing that bothered me, however, is that this film with its catchy music and girlpower theme will appeal most to, well, girls. You might want to think twice before letting your little girl see it if you want her to think for a little while longer that a muffin is nothing more than breakfast food.