It’s not often you get a sequel that surpasses the original, but it’s happened with the aca-frikkin’ awesome Pitch Perfect 2.
Written by Kay Cannon (who wrote the first one) and directed by first-timer Elizabeth Banks, PP2 is sharper edged, more focused and has refined the vulgar-to-sweet ratio to a tee.
When the Barden Bellas perform at the annual Kennedy Center honors show with President Obama in the audience (some very cleverly edited footage), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has the most unfortunate wardrobe malfunction possible (one news channel labels it ‘Muffgate’) – getting the defending three-time collegiate a capella champs suspended and barred from performing – not to mention recruiting any new Bellas.
To add insult to injury, this occurs in the midst of their victory tour and they are replaced by the international champions, Das Sound Machine – a collection of perfect specimens who have a space age stage show to go with their very Teutonic – and extremely fine – singing arrangements. Flula Borg and Birgit Hjort Sørensen are standouts as the group’s arrogant leaders, Pieter Krämer and Kommissar.
During their visit to the Barden U dean’s office, though, they notice a loophole – they can participate in the international championships in Copenhagen. The dean (Graylen Bryant Banks) allows as how they could be reinstated if they win the worlds, but the mere thought of that possibility has him laughing out loud in front of them.
In spite of everyone’s desire to earn back their reputations, there are problems (of course) – not the least of which is Bellas leader Becca’s (Anna Kendrick) interning for a hot record label and not telling anyone (not that things are going so well there, either). And then there’s Chloe (Brittany snow), for whom the Bellas are everything (she’s deliberately flunked Russian Lit a couple of times to stay and be a Bella).
As bad as things seem, though, there’s Guatemalan freshman Bella (Chrissy Fit) who reminds the group that things could be much worse, based on things that have happened to her, personally. That doesn’t sound funny, but the extremes she suggests as real possibilities add a dark edge to the general blue skies film.
On the plus side, the group acquires a new member without having to go through the audition process – Emily Junk’s (Hailee Steinfeld) mom (Katey Sagal) was a Bella so she’s a legacy. Also, she writes songs – good ones.
John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks return as commentators John and Gail – John just as cluelessly misogynistic as ever and Gail just as cheerfully sarcastic in return – improvising a new slug of tasteless comments (‘It just shows that there’s a future who girls who aren’t pretty enough to be cheerleaders.).
There’s even a role for former Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) that plays off the Bellas’ problems in preparing for the worlds – and sets off the culmination of the most comical-yet-heartwarming (sorta) romance of the movie.
Cannon’s script provides plenty of laughs and warm fuzzies as well as some crisp vulgarity (no projectile vomiting though) and Banks show a deft touch for delivering both laughs and sweet character beats. The film’s 115 minutes fly by without feeling rushed or overstuffed.
As for the music, well, it’s mostly pretty amazing. And, despite Das Sound Machine’s aural and physical perfection – and stagecraft – it comes down to one exquisite song in a competition that doesn’t bar originals.
I enjoyed Pitch Perfect 2 even more than the original and I certainly wasn’t alone – there was spontaneous applause at the screening I attended. That doesn’t happen very often, but it was certainly deserved here.
Final Grade: A+
Photos by Richard Cartwright/Courtesy of Universal Pictures