Pitch Perfect 2 layers on the enchanting a cappella melodies and snappy one-liners for which you already had an expectation thanks to the first film. Actress Elizabeth Banks goes behind the cameras for her directorial debut as she guides this story from top to bottom. But one might think that she or someone else involved in the creative process spent too much time trying to make us laugh at the small stuff instead of pulling on our heartstrings with both comedy and drama – a powerful combination on which the first film raised the bar.
The original cast of the all-female vocalists has returned to take on the World’s A Cappella Championship (because it’s a real thing). Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow resume their positions as leaders Beca and Chloe along with the rest of the Barden Bellas – Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy and Hana Mae Lee as Lilly most notably – fall in line. Hailee Steinfeld joins the cast as a “legacy” Bella named Emily and adds an awkward freshness to the line-up (as for me, she’ll always be Mattie Ross from the Coen Brothers’ reiteration of True Grit, though).
Of course, we get Skylar Astin as Jesse and Adam Devine as Bumper, and John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks return as the a cappella host/commentators John and Gail. From there, however, there are so many guests appearances and cameos that I would spoil the whole film were I to list them all (shout out to Reggie Watts). Just know that you’ll laugh the entire time…maybe sometimes because you feel like you have to do so.
Unfortunately, that’s all the film wants you to do is laugh because there’s no room for anything deeper. Themes of love, friendship, and growing up are treated superficially and are shoved aside to make room for all the spectacle. No spoilers, but it seems like all of the potential relationships (not just romantic) that left us wanting more in the first film were left unsatisfied in this one.
Another culprit of the film’s debilitating “always on” attitude is the lack of dramatic tension. The only sources of any kind of conflict are Beca hiding her music producer internship and the Bellas trying to win the big contest, and the former sadly no bearing on the latter (like the film leads us on to think). The deepest the film gets is in its showing of the relationship of Fat Amy and Bumper, and that’s even left too ambiguous in the resolution. As I said in our Noah podcast episode, this film really is something you can just down to and turn your mind off.
What really gets me down is that there may not be a third film to justify the presumptuousness of this one. We’ve seen these characters get deeper in the first film and, as I keep harping, we come to Pitch Perfect 2 with those same expectations that ultimately aren’t met. If there’s any way out of this funk, it is to go inward. The Bellas have defeated the world’s best a cappella groups, but that’s all too shallow. The only way for this film not to leave a bad taste on my palate is if it is only preparation for a third film that will answer the deeper questions of the first film.