Pitch Perfect (2011) is certainly not a great movie. It is a standard by the numbers film, totally predictable, with stereotypes for characters. However, it seems fresh. There are independent women not reliant on male companions for success. The music and choreography are strong. There are funny moments and inside jokes that reward the audience. And though it is generally unoriginal, the execution of the story is relatively strong. So there were strangely high expectations for the sequel. But comic sequels in general are hard nuts to crack, usually too dependent on the original, maintaining a joke’s original wit harder to pull off the second time around (just imagine creating a sequel for a joke you’ve already told). And so it is with Pitch Perfect 2, an all around bore of a film that succeeds at none of its predecessor’s strengths.
It’s been three years since the end of the last film. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is about to graduate and has taken an internship at a music producing studio, hoping to make something of a career and having the usual stress about the job market out of college. Her loyalties are split however by this new venture and her attachment to the Barden Bellas, a recent national disgrace who are competing for their survival at the world acapella championship. With the usual crew of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow) and newcomer Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), they must band together to get through this latest challenge.
Movies need their protagonists front and center. They are the heart and soul of a film who enable an audience to channel their emotions. So it is strange that Beca has very little time in the film. What could have been a somewhat interesting dilemma (loyalty to one’s friends and confronting the future) is watered down by a continuous need to keep returning to less interesting characters such as Emily or Fat Amy (who is given far, far, far too much screentime- she works as comic relief in spare moments, not with her own storyline). Beca’s boyfriend, Jesse (Skylar Astin), is in but a handful of scenes, and they have practically no plotline together, their relationship one of the true rocks of the first film. In essence, the heart is ripped out of the film right from the get go, and we are given nothing to feel for, creating an emotionless spectacle of crude jokes and singing performances that aren’t as crisp as the first film.
Everything feels strained during the course of the story. Emily is an underdeveloped character who is never given an opportunity to make any lasting bonds with any other characters. One can sense that her journey is supposed to mirror Beca’s from the first film, but with this being Beca’s story (supposedly), rehashing the same story again is just a distraction and the viewer quickly loses interest.
Nothing in the film feels earned, creating more disinterest. We don’t see Beca really struggle with the decision of whether or not to stick with her internship or the Barton Bellas so when she does work things out at a retreat (one of the few actual scenes of any kind of development) it feels hollow because she hasn’t earned our satisfaction by suffering. There’s a saying that without pain, we don’t appreciate pleasure. The same works in film and with Beca not suffering, her happiness is voided.
Perhaps the greatest flaw of the film is its reliance on the first movie. The filmmakers seem intent on revisiting every single element of the previous film. They revisit Bumper (Adam DeVine) and Fat Amy’s romance, make up a lame excuse for Chloe to still be at school (she’s flunked some course three times), bring back Aubrey (Anna Camp) for a pointless cameo, have Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) making the same commentary jokes and even have the same structure of the first outing (a new girl enters the Bellas after an embarrassment leaves the team scrambling and that same young recruit makes a mistake at a sing off where the team needs to reconnect with their purpose in order to prove to the world at a singing competition how united they are). It is incredibly lazy and unoriginal and screams that they were just in it to make a sequel rather than to do anything advancing the story.
Thankfully Pitch Perfect is not harmed by this vile excuse for a film and will continue to be enjoyed by audiences while its sequel joins other loathsome comedy sequels such as Caddyshack II (1988), Fletch Lives (1989), Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) and Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988). Audiences have forgotten these pieces of garbage and if the Pitch Perfect 2 filmmakers are lucky, their latest film will be forgotten as well.