5.24.2015

Movies: Pitch Perfect 2

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld
Directed By: Elizabeth Banks
Written By: Kay Cannon, based on characters created by Mickey Rapkin
Universal, 2015
PG-13; 115 minutes
2.5 stars (out of 5)

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I really, really enjoyed Pitch Perfect. And I wanted to really, really enjoy Pitch Perfect 2, but I didn't. I didn't hate it, but I didn't especially enjoy it either. So in the end I was disappointed.

I'm aware, of course, there is a bias. I watched Pitch Perfect at home and with little to no expectations attached. I only passingly knew what it was even about. But going into the sequel, I did have expectations. This is the particular curse of sequels to unexpected blockbusters.

Thing is, in the first movie, all the actors looked like they were having a good time. This time they didn't. Anna Kendrick in particular appeared not to want to be there at all. I spent a good portion of the movie trying to decide if she really didn't want to be there, or if that was just the character. But the character was meant to be torn . . . I think? Actually, it wasn't clear, and that's another problem with the movie. Well, that and it wasn't all that funny.

Again, I probably expected too much from the film. But it was very clear very fast that this was exactly the same beats as the first movie. 1. The catastrophic event that lays the group low. Basically, it's a hole they need to dig themselves out of. (In the first film it was the vomiting, this time it was "Muffgate.") 2. The antagonist group. (In the first film, the boys, in this one the Germans.) 3. The sing-off in which things fall apart. 4. The need to change the act/"sound" in order to win. 5. The big win.

In the first movie Beca isn't sure she wants to even be in the group, and this time . . . She's not sure she wants to keep being in the group. Her heart continues to be in producing music. And her relationship this time around is non-existent, merely taken as fact. She's still dating Jesse, but we only see token scenes of them together. Because instead of inspiring her with old film soundtracks, we now have Hailee Steinfeld inspiring Beca's nascent career with her original songs. ("You're my flashlight"? Really? If someone called me that, I would not be flattered.)

Steinfeld plays Emily, a "legacy" Bella because her mother was a Barden Bella as well. But she's kind of (as we say down South) a dip. And even her would-be romance with Benji is perfunctory, all of it playing to the steady beat of plot point, plot point, plot point.

Sure, argue that the first movie was all plot points too, and you wouldn't be wrong. But instead of tweaking or twisting, Pitch Perfect 2 serves up the same exact dish only colder this time. As I mentioned, no one seems especially happy to be there, none of the actors appear to be having a good time. This movie attempts to be funny but lacks joy.

Still, it's done gangbusters at the box office, which means we're probably in for another round. Beca and Fat Amy and the others have graduated, but we still have Emily . . . Just Emily? Really? All the Bellas were in the same class until now? They hadn't recruited any younger students? That seems like poor planning.

Or I could be wrong and some of those people didn't graduate, in which case it's poor writing for being unclear.

Either way, there's a flaw here. Let's just hope whatever they come up with next has a bit more pop. This one felt flat.