Pitch Perfect was a sleeper hit when it opened in 2012, and now audiences are expecting it to sing better and louder than before. Pitch Perfect 2 is an utter mess when it comes to editing and structure as it tries to cram in far too many plotlines. And yet while the film may feel like a cacophony at times due to randomly switching between characters and losing track of the overall story, director Elizabeth Banks still nails the unexpected humor and charm of the original. Catchy new tunes, biting jokes, and nice emotions make Pitch Perfect 2 a solid follow-up even though it’s usually out of tune.
The Barden Bellas have been riding high after winning the a cappella championship three years in a row, but their reputation implodes when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes President Obama during a performance at the Lincoln Center. Stripped of their dignity and championship tour, the Bellas strike a deal to regain their respect and standing: if they can win the world championship, they’ll be reinstated. The only problem is that no American team has ever won because, to quote snarky commentators John Smith (John Michael Higgins) and Gail Abernathy (Banks), “the whole world hates us.” Left with no option but to win it all, the Bellas try to find their sound again, but they face their stiffest competition in the cold perfection of Germany’s a cappella group, Das Sound Machine.
It’s a plot we’ve seen before, but it’s good enough to carry the lighthearted story we’d expect from a Pitch Perfect sequel. But screenwriter Kay Cannon overstuffs the script with far too many subplots. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is hiding her internship at a music production company because she doesn’t want to offend the rest of the group; Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is a freshman who’s dreamed of following in her mother’s (Katey Sagal) footsteps and becoming a Bella; and Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam Devine), who now works as a security guard at the college, have struck up a relationship because the filmmakers decided that two of the funniest characters should be paired up.
When taken piecemeal, every plotline is fine. Beca’s story gets a great assist from Keegan Michael Key, who plays a music producer; Emily’s story is kind of sweet and sets up the importance of finding your own sound; and Wilson and Devine are good together. But they’re all stacked on top of each other, and the film will veer from its main plot to one of the subplots for no particularly reason. There’s very little momentum in Pitch Perfect 2, but it’s not so bad since the individual scenes are so entertaining.
For example, the riff-off scene in the original is not only a highlight because the movie does a cappella mash-ups so well, but also it’s significant to the plot because Beca starts to assert her authority, which puts her at odds with Aubrey (Anna Camp). In Pitch Perfect 2, the riff-off scene exists mostly to top the one in the first movie rather than advance the plot. But since Pitch Perfect 2’s riff-off scene is really good (and features amazing cameos), I don’t really mind that from a storytelling perspective it only reminds us that the Das Sound Machine leaders are really good and really condescending.
Banks, unsurprisingly, has a knack for comic timing and character relationships, but her feature debut has a serious editing problem both in terms of the overall narrative and within the musical performances. In addition to moving between plotlines with no real rhyme or reason, the Bumper/Amy stuff could have been left on the editing room because even though their scenes are good, they don’t further the overall narrative. But even more frustrating is how Banks handles the montages and singing. Banks and editor Craig Alpert can’t find the rhythm of either. We don’t know where to focus our attention in the montages, and it always feels like the movie is trying to catch up to the musical performances rather than guiding them.
Pitch Perfect 2 lacks style and grace, but for the Barden Bellas, that’s not so bad. The movie sets them up as outsiders who don’t have the severe approach of Das Sound Machine. They’re sweetness over style, and so is Pitch Perfect 2, which may not always be in sync, but can still hit the right notes when it needs to.