Less surprising than a Pitch Perfect sequel is first time director and star Elizabeth Banks taking the helm. Thankfully she does a great job is this entertaining film.
The success of Pitch Perfect didn’t come as a surprise. Not only did it tap into an appetite for high school musical comedy (thanks largely to TV’s Glee) but it gave then-emerging star Anna Kendrick a vehicle to show-off her multitude of performing talents. She smashed it, as they say. A sequel was almost inevitable and thankfully it shapes up quite nicely despite actress Elizabeth Banks stepping behind the camera for the first time. The debutant, who has shone in both TV and film (including the first Pitch Perfect as sharp-tongued broadcaster Gail Abernathy-McKadden) and shown a real skill for comedic timing, displays all her experience behind the lens in Pitch Perfect 2 by capturing the spirit of the previous chapter while taking the story onward and upward.
In some respects, the film is an exercise in box ticking. The song mash-ups are present, relevant, up to date and competently shoehorned into the story; there’s teen angst, crises of identity, dreams made-broken-and-made-again, a bit of romance, a giant climax, and Rebel Wilson saying crude things. Those who saw the first instalment – and let’s face it, most of Pitch Perfect 2’s audience will be familiar with these characters, – will recognise the traits that made part 1 a box office smash reappear again here. But that’s no bad thing. Indeed, Pitch Perfect 2 gives its target audience exactly what they want in a sequel and the success of that is by maintaining the status quo.
The film picks up the story as the a cappella college group the Barden Bellas begrudgingly prepare for life after university. Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) has already set her heart on producing music but the others appear to cling to ambitions that centre around singing competition. However, after Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy splits her trousers on stage during a show for President Obama, the Bellas are suspended from any US-based a cappella event. Hatching a deal with the organisers that allows the Bellas back in if they win the World Championships, the group are faced with the almost impossible task of uprooting the seemingly unstoppable German’s known as Das Sound Machine.
Kendrick’s Beca is still the star of the show – the Bellas’ music director and spiritual leader – but her character knows the fun of college has an expiry date and is now preoccupied with an internship at a recording studio. In her wake, “super senior” Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), who refuses to graduate in order to remain a “Bella”, assumes leadership duties alongside loose cannon Amy (Wilson) who together invite legacy Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld), whose mother is a former singer in the group, to join after an impromptu audition.
The fact Kendrick is away from the group gives Revel Wilson more screen time. It’s a blessing and a curse depending on your disposition to sexual innuendo and one-liners. For me, it works. Director Banks strikes a nice balance between the two star superpowers of this franchise with both actresses’ Hollywood weight growing off the back of the first film. There are satisfactory subplots running parallel to the Bellas’ pursuit of another big prize. Amy’s relationship to Adam DeVine’s Bumper Allen amusingly becomes more than a friend-with-benefits, while Beca must make the best use of her talents while also accepting her shortcomings in pursuit of a dream to become a professional music producer.
In the meantime, the eager-to-please Emily, played by Oscar-nominated actress Hailee Steinfeld, gives the group a refreshing injection of new blood. Also part of Banks’ rebalancing act is a reduced role for Beca’s love interest Jesse Swanson (Skylar Astin) who must resign himself to cheerleader duties as Modern Family and Workaholics star Adam DeVine gets more time to shine. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the director has ensured there’s plenty of funny banter between John Michael Higgins’ ill-equipped competition commentator John Smith and his co-anchor Gail Abernathy-McKadden.
Aside from the delightful Kendrick, the real strength of the first Pitch Perfect was the pop music composition and choreography. To strip the sequel of its director John Moore, whose experience on- and off-Broadway has seen him oversee productions such as Les Misérables and Jerry Springer: The Opera, could be seen as a major stumbling block. Yet, while an underground a cappella “fight club” mimicking the empty swimming pool “riff-off” in the original film, and the finale of the World Championships, don’t quite match Moore’s entertaining, character-driven orchestration, they’re still worthy alternative sequences cut from the same cloth. Pitch Perfect 2 also benefits from a memorably cheesy solo effort from Rebel Wilson and the terrifically catchy original ballad Flashlight recorded specially for the film by Jessie J and beautifully performed by the Bellas in the World Finals.
As a streamlined, pop-centric comedy-drama Pitch Perfect 2 is an admirably dressed sequel to its smash hit big brother. Audiences who enjoyed the first film will have no trouble singing along with their favourite characters once again.
Written by Daniel Stephens
Directed by: Elizabeth Banks
Written by: Kay Cannon
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Katey Sagal, Anna Camp, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks
Released: 2015 / Genre: Musical-Comedy
Country: USA / IMDB
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Pitch Perfect 2 is released in the UK on DVD/Blu-ray September 21 courtesy of Universal