Pitch Perfect 2 is barely a movie. And that should be a massive consideration. While Pitch Perfect managed to capture pop culture lightning in a bottle that also happened to house a story about finding friends and a sense of belonging, the sequel squeaks by in being a collection of loosely connected jokes, songs, and scenes. And it’s still probably worth seeing.
It opens a few years down the road following the first movie with the Barden Bellas, the all-girl a capella group at a fictional Georgia college, performing at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Still riding high from their national victory (and, apparently, subsequent repeats), they have official gone big time.
Unfortunately, a classic wardrobe malfunction in front of President and Mrs. Obama sends them into the gutter and forces them to compete in the international circuit to regain their respect. The problem arrives in three parts: 1) a new legacy pledge shows up, 2) the reigning international champions are dangerously German, and 3) Becca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) gets a job at a recording studio.
Despite all the surface-level differences, the plot moves in very much the same way as the first film. Becca, in fact, repeats her arc of going from too-cool-for-you to “I love you awesome nerds” once more. But then the beats involving being new to competitive a capella, finding a love interest, and integrating personal musical desires get excised and put onto newcomer Emily Junk-Hardon (Hailee Steinfeld).
The repetitive structure manages to feel worn even halfway through the film’s 115-minute runtime where even the predictable act structure of a modern comedy can’t be popcorn’d away. Even the ordering of song and choreography build up is similar, following bigger and bigger moments with more and more intimate singing exchanges. They even manage to cook up a fantastically ill-explained Riff-off simulacrum hosted by David Cross.
And somehow, it still doesn’t seem to matter as much as it should. This isn’t a movie so much as it is a tightly compacted sequence of Fun Things. Hell, the antagonists’ most evil quality is wearing mesh shirts. While the song selection isn’t as catchy or head-bobbing or sing-alongy as before, they are still quite electrifying to watch. It’s enough to make you wonder why you didn’t join a college a capella group as well. (It’s not too late for some of you!)
First-time director Elizabeth Banks—who also plays a capella commentator Gail Abernathy-McKadden—manages to mostly keep it moving at a brisk pace, barely allowing you to recognize the failings in the moment. Jokes land with regular consistency and are even able to further explore some of the established shenanigans of the first film.
The Jessica/Ashley gag is especially choice, as are most of the Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) bits where she interacts with, well, basically anyone and anything. However, some of the jokes fall so flat that they don’t even register as jokes, most of which occur with the minority Bellas played by Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, and Chrissie Fit. If they were more pointed and handled more gracefully, then some could have counted as biting commentary, but instead they just come off as shirt-yankingly awkward.
However, the spirit remains intact. It’s impossibly upbeat, even when the drummed-up drama surfaces (for legal reasons, probably), and makes you feel like you could be a Bella. Peering through the casually racist stereotyping; innumerable cameos by the likes of Snoop Dogg and the Green Bay Packers and Pentatonix(!); and mishandled narrative, it still comes out shining brighter than it should.
Pitch Perfect 2 never quite reaches the smooth, comfortable grace with a side of slick rebellion that only a quirky underdog film like its predecessor can achieve, but it still manages to be mostly together and mostly entertaining. With expectations in check and a heart open to a capella mashups, then you can find joy in it, too.
Final Score: 7 out of 10