It is human nature to strive for greatness, to push ideas to their extremes in order to make new discoveries. It is certainly the foundation of any creative endeavor. Sometimes it yields great rewards. Other times, as in the case of Pitch Perfect 2, the specific line of enquiry falters, veers off track and ultimately leads to an expensive dead end.
No one predicted the first Pitch Perfect film would be such a success. No one expected that the world of a-cappella performance could be so enthralling. In Pitch Perfect, we followed an unlikely group of girls thrown together in order to reclaim the title of collegiate a-cappella champions. We found ourselves cheering them on throughout a series of failures and arguments until they ultimately learned to appreciate each other’s talents and won the championship. This time, we revisit the girls 3 years later just as they’ve reached their peak. However, a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ exposing Rebel Wilson’s lady garden (still the most shocking thing anyone can ever be exposed to obviously) plunges them into disrepute and they must redeem themselves by facing the German a-cappella group Das Sound Machine at the International Championship of Collegiate A-cappella.
The thing that made the first film so good is that it fused a specific brand of outsider, indie film sarcasm (think ‘Heathers’) with the more run of the mill wry humour of series like Glee. In Pitch Perfect 2, we still get sardonic flashes from Elizabeth Banks and Michael John Higgins as the commentators and some classic Fat Amy put downs but they are, sadly, few and far between. The effort here has gone into the glitter and pyrotechnics, not the humour. The numbers are bigger, more choreographed, sparklier and taken far too seriously. The girls have all undergone a sort of Desperate Housewives makeover (presumably to make them look less fresh faced after 3 years at Barden College). And the humour is downgraded to become far more predictable and juvenile.
A disappointing veer towards racial stereotyping means that the weird and wonderful Lily (‘I ate my twin in the womb’) and new character Florencia (‘When I was nine my brother tried to sell me for a chicken’) become utterly one-dimensional. But I am especially disappointed at what has become of Fat Amy, the overweight and mercurial misfit played by Rebel Wilson. She was certainly the best character in the first film. She called out the ridiculousness of every situation, putting people in their place time and time again. She was far too clever for most of the other characters. (‘You call yourself Fat Amy?’ ‘Yeah, so twig bitches like you can’t do it behind my back’). But whereas in PP1 we were definitely laughing with her, in PP2 we find ourselves expected to laugh at her. Originally her comedy was clever, this time her jokes are juvenile. And whereas in the first film she derided the lead singer of the rival Barden group, Bumper from the Treble Makers, with some great put downs to his cruel and bullying comments towards her, this time she is secretly having a relationship with him. I feel sorry for her that she’s been paired with this utterly unlikeable character. For me, it devalues her. Kay Canon, the writer, has sold Fat Amy down the river.
In many ways this film is simply a re-hash of the first one with certain scenes becoming slightly more absurd. The riff off in the first film was joyous. An empty swimming pool setting showcased what the Barden Bellas were capable of even though tensions were beginning to bubble to the surface. In the second film, the Bellas are invited to the house of the ‘world’s biggest a-cappella fan’ (which seems to be conveniently just down the road) where he is hosting a secret riff off in the secret ‘party room’ in his palatial mansion. It’s a far-fetched and yet, predictable plot device employed to create tension as the Bellas experience defeat at the hands of Das Sound Machine.
I did, however, enjoy the expansion of Fat Amy’s sentiment in PP1 (‘I joined this group to hang out with a bunch of really cool chicks!’). This is a friendship group thriving on acceptance and pulling together in order to achieve something. Although the camping trip was a tad cheesy at times, it does underline the main point of this film, female relationships based on support and compassion are a powerful force for good. I am suspicious of #SqaudGoals, but in this case they might not be so bad.
Oh and also, it passes the Bechdel test.