"You are such a-ca-disappointment!"
Pitch Perfect 2 is perfectly emblematic of most (romantic) comedy sequels and the struggles they face in revisiting the material that made their predecessors so successful while refreshing and adding new elements to move characters/stories forward. Add to the mix the lightning in the bottle quality of the original low budget Pitch Perfect, a surprise cultural hit never designed to a be franchise where the college freshmen aged characters were left with relatively closed storylines, and we have a tall order to satisfy.
Our Bellas are back as Anna Kendrick's endearing Beca is saddled with new problems (and an unnecessary but amusing workplace side plot with the hilarious Keegan-Michael Key to riff off of) to highlight her graduation storyline to move on and continue her (uninteresting) relationship with Skylar Astin. Replacing director Jason Moore is co-star/producer Elizabeth Banks (her directorial debut) alongside returning writer Kay Cannon who struggle with balancing nearly all the returning characters and introducing new ones (including numerous cameos). Banks does a admirable job of directing and balancing the numerous performance as Kay's script doesn't quite service so many competing story elements and songs together the way the first did.
Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy is still fairly flat out funny with her deadpan one-liners and non sequitors even if she's overexposed and mined for too many easy jokes. Brittany Snow's Chloe has been reduced and devalued to being shrill and combative to the rest of the team without her own sense of direction. New member Hailee Steinfeld is earnest and genuine but out of place, essentially filling in Kendrick's role in the first, but is forced into a forgettable romance and the responsibility of introducing the Bella's rich fictional history and legacy (never mentioned in the original). There are so many different comedic subplots that never quite come together as none of the characters seem to live anything resembling college life.
What sinks Pitch Perfect 2 as its own film, separate from all the scenes of genuine musical fun, is how much it tries to fit everything in. By far the sequel's best sequence is a mid-film diversion where the Bellas and four other a cappella groups do battle in an underground riff-off. It's emblematic of all positive qualities of the series but completely superfluous to the convoluted, dense plot. Furthermore, easily the highlight performances of the film are the German villain a cappella group and defending world champions, Das Sound Machine, led by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and Flula Borg, but they as well succeed largely outside the plot. The Germans are the perfect foils as their jokes and interactions make the absurd world of a cappella competitions all the more enjoyable and dynamic.
Pitch Perfect 2 retreads all the positive and negative qualities of the original, dialling up the romantic and geeky elements that made it so charming. However, it's overstuffed and overly narrative focused, trying to be both nostalgic and fresh with its fair share of high notes but the overall tone is off key. The film tries to replicate the reliable teen movie competition formula (à la Bring It On) while moving things forward but as a result, remains static or evens regresses. It tries too hard to do too much, being bigger and louder with more money to throw around yet not nearly as much fun.
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