If you go into theatres with very low expectations, Pitch Perfect 2 is an entertaining film. In the tradition of other unnecessary comedy sequels like The Hangover trilogy, Horrible Bosses 2 and 22 Jump Street, the film is a shadow of its predecessor, reaching for cheap laughs and emotional payoffs that are sadly unearned. Although still funny, it is, much like the film’s German character says “a heated mess, where heat is applied to it, so that which was a little messy is now even messier”.
Pitch Perfect is a competition comedy, much like Bring It On, Best in Show, and Dodgeball. These films succeed in part because they understand what their ultimate comedy goal is, and adjust the emotional expectations of the audience accordingly. Best in Show used dead-pan humour and a mockumentary style to satirize the type of obsessive person that loves dog shows. Although the film shows us the subjects’ inner lives, it wisely didn’t attempt melodrama that would detract from its stylistic goal in commenting on the competition. Similarly, Dodgeball boldly accepted that it is a campy, over-the-top comedy and spent minimal time on emotional development in order to include as many training and rival team gags as possible. Bring It On, and Pitch Perfect, however, take a different route. Although both films are campy, the driving comedic force of the films is a cast of fleshed-out characters who form deep emotional bonds with one another. Sadly, Pitch Perfect 2 has no clear vision of whether it wants to be a campy, goofy comedy or one with a gooey, soft heart.
At certain points in the film, Pitch Perfect 2 seems to want to be an absurd Dodgeball-like comedy. This is the only possible reason I can come up with to explain the film’s reduction of the majority of the Bellas to two-dimensional women seemingly inserted into the story as punchlines. Since the film pulls an unnecessary three-year time jump where some characters have graduated, it would be logical to think that the supporting cast from the first film would get their time in the sun. Nope! Hana Mae Lee reprises her role as creepy-as-all-hell Lee, but her character never says anything but absurdist one-liners. Similarly, Ester Dean’s lesbian character Cynthia-Rose does little outside of hitting on her fellow Bellas, while poor Alexis Knapp is given little to do as Stacie besides writhing on inanimate objects. Most egregiously, Brittany Snow’s character Chloe is demoted completely, her personality inexplicably taking on that of Anna Camp’s anxious character Aubrey. Rebel Wilson has perhaps the only story arc that makes sense and shows growth.
While the previous film’s characters are stunted in the new production, one newly introduced character stands out for being offensively flat and surprisingly racist. In the film, Chrissie Fit plays a new Bella named Florencia “Flo” Fuentes that immigrated from Guatamala. Distastefully, every time Flo opens her mouth it’s to spout one-lines such as “one time my brother almost sold me for a chicken” and “I’ll likely be deported and die on a refugee boat”. Get it? Because Latin American immigrants are dumb enough to almost sell their own siblings for poultry! And deportation and mass boating tragedies are HILARIOUS! The inclusion of this character, along with other overdone and uncreative jokes about Thai ladyboys feel unnecessary and out of place in a comedy whose predecessor prided itself on inclusion and self-aware jabs.
The sacrifice in character development is seemingly pointless, however, as the schticks become repetitive, and we never receive a big, campy payoff. Instead of focusing on bombastic musical numbers at the international singing competition that’s heavily advertised in the promotional materials, the film spends considerable time on the Bellas inexplicably needing to “find their sound”. Apparently their sound was lost when Fat Amy flashed the president at the beginning of the film. Funny, I didn’t realize that a woman’s lady bits had magical voice-stealing powers like Ursula’s locket in The Little Mermaid. Disappointingly, the Bella sound turns out to be the exact same as their old one, just with an original song shoved in that espouses the wonderful properties of flashlights.
Due to the lack of character development, the film’s attempts at tugging the view’s heartstrings feel manipulative. Pitch Perfect 2 insists on making Anna Kendrick’s character Becca choose between an internship at a record company and the “finding a new sound” mission. Becca spends so little time talking with the other women about something other than acapella that Becca’s decision is robbed of any tension. The closest we get to seeing two women interact in a genuine manner is Amy telling Becca that she’s awesome repeatedly in order to make her feel better. Without Becca at the helm of the Bellas, the group feels lost, suggesting that the film would have been better served by the record studio storyline being cut out completely (sorry, adorable Snoop Dogg cameo).
The film thus seems stuck between going full camp this go-around and sticking to its “female friendship, hurrah!” roots, using its time unwisely and leaving its audience unsatisfied in the process. Ultimately, the movie amounts to a collection of lost aca-tunities.
So, knowing all of this, is the movie worth seeing? Listen, if you want a silly night out and you don’t mind some product placements being thrown in your face, this film is better than most big commercial comedies out there (Adam Sandler, I’m looking at you).