That impudent style of disrespectful humor that worked so well in the first Pitch Perfect comedy kicks off the sequel within the first few seconds, and it’s hilarious.
The sound you hear over the familiar Universal Pictures logo as it circles planet Earth is not the couple sitting next to you clearing their throats, it belongs to John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks warming their vocal chords to the strains of the famous logo theme as they ready themselves for yet another broadcast on their podcast Let’s Talk-Appella.
The all-girl Barden Bellas, now in their senior year, have the honor of performing before the President and the First Lady at the Lincoln Center. “What an inspiration to girls all over the country who are too ugly to be cheerleaders,” commentator John Smith (Higgins) cheerfully declares into his mic. And it all goes well, at first. Then Rebel Wilson as Aussie student Fat Amy is lowered from above the stage during the song and the whole thing goes pear-shaped, or in Amy’s case, rotund shape. “An overweight girl hanging from the ceiling,” states Smith into his mic. “Who hasn’t had that dream?” A mishap follows involving an upside down a capella singer, a down-under wardrobe malfunction, and national TV coverage declaring the full-on exposure before the President as Muffgate. “This is what happens when you send girls to college,” Smith observes on the podcast. All this and the opening credits haven’t even begun.
Pitch Perfect 2 doesn’t quite have the freshness that surprised audiences in the 2012 original, plus the story feels considerably slimmer, but the insolent attitude to gag after gag-fueled comedy that goes low without using f-bombs as punchlines continues to be laugh-out-loud funny, and that’s part of what makes this sequel work.
Suspended form the A Capella circuit, the Barden Bellas by-pass local rules and go international. They enter a world-wide A Capella competition with its finals in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Where is that?” asks Amy. “I don’t know,” replies Chloe (Brittany Snow), “I failed Map.”
In addition to Higgins and Elizabeth Banks – who here pulls double duty as both actor and first-time director – most of the familiar faces return. Anna Kendrick’s Becca secretly takes a job as an intern in a recording studio while continuing to rehearse with the girls, Brittany Snow’s Chloe should have left college by now but can’t let go and stays an extra year to remain with the Bellas, while True Blood’s Anna Camp returns as Aubrey acting as a kind of campsite, military drill instructor determined to whip the girls into shape. “In the minefield of life, you must be prepared to lose both feet,’ she instructs.
The self-deprecating Rebel Wilson is still there, though her role as Fat Amy appears to have increased in size this second time around. Rather than a Bella support, Fat Amy’s role has developed into something far more prominent. While her mumbling, ad-libbed sounding delivery with the Australian accent can be funny in small doses, there’s a danger here of it overstaying its welcome. A little of Rebel Wilson can go a long way. “You’re the most talented person I know,” Fat Amy tells Becca. “And I’ve met three of The Wiggles.”
Hana Mae Lee also returns in the underused supporting role as Lilly Onakurama. The joke of being the Bardem student who sings with volume but speaks in such a soft, whispery tone may seem funny on paper but less so on the screen. Frankly, it’s just weird. Perhaps a third outing will up the wattage and increase her presence; the character deserves it.
There are also several new faces. As co-leader of the champion German A Capella troupe Das Sound Machine, Danish actress Birgitte Hjort Sorensen makes a strong, comical impression as she threateningly towers over Anna Kendrick’s pocket-sized Becca. Reggie Watts, currently leading the band on TV’s The Late, Late Show, plays a rival A Capella singer, Pentatonix appear as the Canadian contingent on the international forum (they’re actually from Texas), Snoop Dogg makes a brief but funny appearance as himself recording Winter Wonderland for his oncoming Christmas CD, Married… with Children’s Katey Sagal plays a former Barden Bella, and best of all, Hailee Steinfeld, best remembered as Mattie Ross in the 2010 True Grit remake, arrives at Bardem College with just one aim – to be a Bella. And she can sing.
But just like the 2010 original, the real laughs belong to those two commentating podcasters, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks whose observations on the singers, their costumes and their choice of songs never fail to deliver an inappropriate, bigoted zinger. When the girls are suspended after the Lincoln Center disaster, Higgins’ Smith earnestly states, “The truth is, you’re just women. And you’ll all be pregnant soon.” Without these two, the film would loose the very thing that holds all this well sung though thin nonsense together.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 114 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)