Singing Sequel Hits The Same Notes
DIRECTED BY ELIZABETH BANKS/2015
JIM TUDOR: The Bellas are back, for more comedy wrapped up in singing, or vice versa, depending on your preference.
As a movie, it’s more of a fun night out at the theater than a stirring next chapter in the lives of these young women. But, Pitch Perfect 2 has it where it counts: there’s more singing, more performing, more gags, and the whole cast is back. The film seems to be saying that all things must come to an end, but wait! ….Not before it all happens again.
Although I’m a bit hazy on the exact story of the first film (a very satisfying endeavor), Pitch Perfect 2’s talestrikes me as more of a greatest hits replay than a bona fide next chapter. It feels more like an episode of television them the hotly anticipated event movie that it is.
The film opens with the Bellas giving a command performance at Lincoln Center, with the president and his family in attendance. Something goes horribly, comedically, and embarrassingly wrong, and in one fell swoop everything the Bellas built up in the first film has come crashing down. With graduation looming, this a cappella singing sensation group is now suddenly on the outs. They’ve lost their sound – will they get it back so that they can take their final bow on a high note?
Pitch Perfect 2 is directed by Elizabeth Banks who is making her directorial debut here. As she’s demonstrated in scores of previous acting roles, Banks is a proven comedian. Her own moments in the film, shared with John Michael Higgins once again, playing the hosts of an an apparently very well funded cappella podcast, are among the film’s funniest moments. Additionally, Rebel Wilson has a few memorable laughs as well, but on the whole, Pitch Perfect 2 just isn’t quite funny enough. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s just barely on the right side of funny enough.
ERIK YATES: I agree that this is more of a greatest hits, but like any greatest hits compilation, the point is that you are hearing the hits. In that regard, I think most people who enjoyed the first one will find this one to be even better simply because it hits all of the high notes of the first one without all of the filler.
Anna Kendrick once again plays Beca, a girl with a knack for remixing songs into mash-ups. As a senior she is interning at a major music studio trying to break into the biz on her own, and as a result, her mind isn’t on the Bellas like it should be. She figures all things come to an end, but this will put her in conflict with the Bellas who are trying to regain their campus status to ensure their legacy. Their only hope is winning the world a cappella championships. Through their conflict, they must rediscover their sound if they are to beat the world champion German group Das Sound Machine.
A subtitle of this film could be “Bigger, Louder, More” as it crams in all kinds of songs, cameos, and comedic bits. Das Sound Machine’s version of Muse’s Uprising, is pretty great and Elizabeth Banks keeps the sets moving. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is given an even bigger role than she had in the first film, and a quite funny role at that.
One of the subtle subplots about the Bella’s sound earns them criticism for having too much going on in their stage shows as they seek to compete with the theatrical Das Sound Machine. They have too many props, pyrotechnics, and acrobats. Something is being lost in the process, and that is the music.
Having a newcomer to the group, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld- Begin Again, 3 Days to Kill), who writes original tunes instead of the covers the a cappella world seems to major on, is another way to show the need to get back to true artistry and not let the music get lost in the performance. This seems like a subtle jab at the modern music industry by Elizabeth Banks, that is dead on. Ironically, to prove that point she directs like the artists on screen she is criticizing by being so over the top with the antics, comedy, and staging that in the end it focuses everything back on the subject matter at hand: solid singing without gimmicks. Sometimes nothing shows the absurdity of something like being absurd. That is made even easier when Snoop Dogg is singing Christmas songs and David Cross (Arrested Development) is hosting sing-offs in his house!
JIM TUDOR: I don’t know if I’d go so far as to call those segments “absurd”, but perhaps you are onto something. Snoop Dogg singing traditional Christmas songs is unexpectedly odd, that’s for sure. But, for my money, the sheer glut of singing throughout the movie didn’t hold my attention like it should have. The David Cross sing-off sequence particularly dragged on, it’s greatest suspence being what song will be sung next. Who will be eliminated in this contest isn’t really much of a question. The story is predictable at every turn, so the burden is on the actors to perform, perform, perform (and they do), and the director to keep it moving fast enough that we don’t notice (not quite).
Everything ramps up to a major singing showdown event in Copenhagan. The music starts thumping, the lights cut the darkness! The pain-in-the-neck Das Sound Machine, an a cappella fishnet adorned Kraftwork for the Pitch Perfect generation, perform their final impresive number. Finally, it is the Bellas big moment. Which led me to wonder, why is it that they order of acts in these types of films always culminates in the order of the protagonist’s greatest threat next to last, then finally the protagonist underdog, performing last (but rarely least)?
Via Hailee Steinfeld’s newly inducted member of the group, the movie manages to squeeze in a newly minted original tune amid all of the American Idol-ing of familiar pop hits. The song, “Flashlight”, has a catchy hook and is featured prominently enough to make the film’s point that “you can’t be a cover act forever”, but also screams, “Hit single, right here!!! Come on, people! Make me a hit!” It’s Kelly Clarkson-y enough that that might just happen, although it shouldn’t hold out hope for a Best Original Song Oscar.
I’m told that 2012’s Pitch Perfect has many, many ardent fans who have watched the film fifty-plus times. If someone has that kind of time on one’s hands for watching a single movie ad nauseum, one could ceertainly do far worse that that film. In that regard, part 2 is likely to please those fans. It plays more squarely to a late teen girl demographic, as evidenced in its product placement, set sheet, and even the closing credits bonus scene, which itself IS a television excerpt. (Good thing they didn’t opt to feature the just axed American Idol here… Oh, how the mighty have fallen…)
Storywise, Pitch Perfect 2 is a completely unnecessary trip back to the same well as Pitch Perfect. (From a studio bean-counter’s point of view, it’s clearly a no-brainer.) The water’s still good at times, but it’s drying up quick. And it’s hard to sing with a dry mouth.