Director: Elizabeth Banks
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld
Watch Pitch Perfect 2 online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
“I sleep upside down like a bat.” There’s something undeniably funny about hearing something so random in the middle of a film about a singing competition – and those whispered non-sequiturs from Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) were a huge part of what made Pitch Perfect hilariously, brilliantly entertaining. The problem is that you can’t just repeat the same trick twice and get the same reaction; Lilly returns for Pitch Perfect 2, but like a difficult second album, it loses some of its novel impact.
That’s the biggest obstacle to this sequel’s success, as Kay Cannon’s script appears content to go through the broad strokes set out by the first one. We catch up with the Barden Bellas, as they’re riding high on the back of three ICCA wins, a run that began with the original film. When a performance in front of Barack Obama goes wrong, though, the Bellas are suspended from the ICCA. Their only shot at redemption? Winning the a cappella World Championship. Which is conveniently coming up soon.
What follows is a regrouping period, as the gang try to remember the harmony that made them work in the first place. It’s a time-old formula that only emphasises the weak sections in the ensemble. The group, of course, still sing fantastically, from their opening performance to their closing number, complete with a training camp segment in the middle (allowing for an excellent cameo from Anna Camp), but that, oddly, is a problem in itself, because there’s no notable difference in their “sound”, even though the whole narrative hinges on them rediscovering it; the first film’s success partly lies in the way that it matched the group’s evolving sound with their improving off-stage dynamics. Here, their choreography trips them up (literally), but there’s little acoustic payoff on a soundtrack that remains consistently catchy and professionally produced.
Instead, the individual parts that stick out are in between the musical numbers, as the group’s exchanges rely on jokes that are too often based on obvious stereotypes and occasionally skirt towards casual racism. The introduction of Hailee Steinfeld as Emily, a freshman who also writes her own songs, is a neat addition to the team, but once we’ve heard about her desire to write original material, rather than perform covers (a big no-no in Pitch Perfect’s a cappella world), for the 15th time, there’s no surprise in where the plot ends up going.
Fortunately, the cast mean that Pitch Perfect 2 can get away with it, as Anna Kendrick continues to be utterly charming as the Bellas’ leader, Beca – even as she enters into a music label subplot that mostly revolves around a one-joke boss (a wasted Keegan-Michael Key), who disapproves of her aca-hijinks. Rebel Wilson, too, still brings the giggles as Fat Amy, whose relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine) remains enjoyably over-the-top. Even John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks have enough enthusiasm to sell their repeated cameos as the inappropriate aca-commentators, whose schtick is starting to wear thin.
Compared to the first film, though, it’s telling that the franchise is now at its best when the characters are performing together, rather than talking together. That’s particularly highlighted by the arrival of Das Sound Machine, a German group with ruthless efficiency and ambitious drive (did we mention the stereotypes?), who are led with amusing arrogance and perfect poise by the scene-stealing Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flula Borg. From Muse’s Uprising to the Thong Song, it’s their intimidating vocals that really shine, elevating a Riff Off set piece (hosted by David Cross) that otherwise underwhelms, especially when compared to Pitch Perfect’s memorable car park scene.
By the time we reach the finale, then, where music is the central focus, Pitch Perfect 2 is on flying form. A multi-lingual medley of Any Way You Want It (featuring the Pentatonix) is a delight, while the Barden Bellas’ own mash-up fuses Run the World (Girls) and Where Them Girls At to deliver a rousing, uplifting message about women supporting each other and working together. It’s an ending that’s better than the rest of the movie, but a welcome reminder that, even when the novelty has faded, Pitch Perfect still knows how to hit the right notes.
Pitch Perfect 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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