Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 2

CAST: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Sagal, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Brigitte Hjort Sorensen, Flula Borg

DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Banks

WRITER: Kay Canon, Mickey Rapkin

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jim Denault

Back in the glorious decade of the ’90s, a fictional group of singing Catholic nuns stormed the box-office and once more proved the existence and profitability of the female sense of humor. Based on a Carrie Fisher-Nancy Meyers script, SISTER ACT cemented the comic legend of Whoopi Goldberg. Like most successful films, it spawned an inferior sequel. SISTER ACT 2: BACK IN HABIT focused on a group of talented but problematic high school kids competing in a national choir championships. In this regard, PITCH PERFECT 2 is the millennial acapella-performing granddaughter of SISTER ACT 2. Like BACK IN HABIT, it failed to capture the fresh and magical quality of the original. Though PITCH PERFECT 2 soars each time the Barden Bellas perform, it suffers from poor structure and multiple subplots.

Three-time National champion Barden Bellas committed a gargantuan blunder in front of the President of the United States; prompting the head of the school to cancel their ongoing tour and suspend the group altogether. In order to redeem their situation, the Bellas decided to join the acapella world championships — a tough singing competition no American group has ever won. Sing or die.

In the original film, the Treblemakers serves as some sort of antagonist; though the real conflict is  the adjustment process of Becca (Kendrick) as a Bella. This is not the case in the sequel. Meet the Das Sound Machine (DSM): defending champions. The fearsome martial-like DSM is committed on exterminating other competing singing groups and the hapless Bellas are caught in the cross-hairs. Its leader is Kommissar (Sorensen), a statuesque, single-minded, intimidating presence. Sorensen is a Danish actress who gained popularity in the hit show BORGEN. She earned further acclaim when she co-starred with Tom Hiddleston in the stage production of CORIOLANUS. I consider her the breakout star of the film. Revealing another facet in her acting, Sorensen nailed the comical German accent her character requires and made Kommissar an interesting humorous heel. There is a running gag about Becca trying to trash talk Kommissar but ends up girl crushing on her and I do hope it is a take on Kendrick’s status as a popular girl crush.

Music remains the greatest strength of PITCH PERFECT 2; the film ascends to a better place each time there is a musical performance. One of the highlights is the underground riff-off scene featuring the Das Sound Machine, the Barden Bellas, the Tone Hangers, the Green Bay Packers, and the Treblemakers. From songs about shaking posteriors, ’90s hip-hop jams, 2000s anthems, and a Sisqo hit; the riff-off allows the filmmakers to replicate one of the best scenes in the original and stretch the film running time for at least five minutes more. (A responsible and a respectable ’90s kid, I sang along the hits of Montell Jordan and Cypress Hill.) The musical spectacle remains the world championships in Copenhagen and included real and established singing groups like Pentatonix, Filharmonic, The Cantasticos, Singboks, and Penn Masala. Of course, the Barden Bellas did not disappoint and sprang a couple of surprises. Re-establishing their trademark choreographed mash-ups, the Bellas broke an acapella cardinal rule as a clincher. Plus one more surprise which remains the most heartfelt part of the entire film. 

Elizabeth Banks, producer and director, placed themes of girlhood and sisterhood front and center of PITCH PERFECT 2. A bankable comedian herself, she did not hesitate to infuse her film with broad, crude, and sometimes perverse humor. Sometimes it is in the jokes and at times in the choice of songs. However, like all films, it requires structure and in this respect, the PITCH PERFECT sequel fails. The original has a singular focus: the introduction of Becca and her integration to the Barden Bellas. Since the tacit rule of sequels is bigger is better, the film added characters and multiple subplots. Hailee Steinfeld joins the cast and her character adhered to the Becca Template; except she likes – scratch that – destined to be a Bella. New minor Bella members though, ended up as punchlines and not characters; a recognizable problem in the first film. One-note characters dishing out repetitive one-note jokes, until it suffers from diminishing returns. Multiple subplots shake its structural foundation and distract the audience from the actual plot: the Barden Bellas quest to win the world championships. There are at least three discernible subplots: a) the secret internship of Becca, b) a blossoming romance between a Bella and a Treblemaker, and c) the development of Steinfeld’s character. Once a subplot overruns the main plot, troubles arise: awkward tonal shifts, confused narration, and muddled themes. The disjointed transitions of the three subplots — all concluding right before the finale — obscures important themes like: sticking to strengths against expanding horizons; living in the moment against confronting the future; and finding the perfect pitch amidst the discordant sounds of life. (One last point: Rebel. She is the scene-stealer in the first film; therefore her role is broader in the sequel. Some characters are better off as seasonings; a dash here and a sprinkling there. Rebel is the seasoning and too much of her could ruin the dish. I like her in bursts delivering jolting quips and not as a love-struck romantic second lead.)

I Gleeked out before GLEE started airing in the Philippines; through ad-filled online streams. The once promising show lost its magic during the second season and I abandoned it in the third. The original PITCH PERFECT was released as GLEE was flaming out and losing pop culture importance. The Barden Bellas filled the gigantic hole the New Directions once occupied. Despite one-dimensional characters and admit it, racist jokes, the timing of PITCH PERFECT is, for lack of better term, perfect. The sequel is not terrible but it is not as good as the original. I did not expect cinematic depth from PITCH PERFECT 2 just glorious finger-snapping music; but I do expect focus and structure.

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