Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Everybody’s favourite a cappella troupe, the Barden Bellas, have returned and this time they’re out for redemption. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect 2 takes what worked the first time around, puts a fresh spin on it and adds in plenty of progression for its protagonists to craft a comedy sequel that is extremely entertaining from start to finish.
After an accidental indecent exposure incident in front of the president leaves the Bellas ridiculed and humiliated, they’re forced to find a way to rebuild their reputation or face permanent disbandment. This sets the group on a path paved with mayhem and madness as they continuously clash with arch-rivals Das Sound Machine in an attempt to conquer the a cappella world championships.
As was the case with the original outing, the comedy and choas are more often than not interlaced with the mesmerising musical numbers. A strong and surreal opening sequence takes an appropriately amusing approach to re-introducing us to the world of the Barden Bellas in this regard, simultaneously showcasing the characters’ talents and setting the scene for the frolics to follow.
There are plenty of energetic and absorbing a capella antics crammed into the proceedings between here and the final act. Some of the highlights include a ridiculous and rousing riff-off organised by David Cross’s eccentric host; Fat Amy’s amusing lake side serenade of Adam Devine’s Bumper Allen; and an impromptu, captivating collaboration between Beca and Snoop Dogg which really left me wishing that Anna Kendrick would team up with the seasoned rapper to make a Christmas record in reality!
Humour aside though, one of the key strengths of Pitch Perfect 2 is the amount of heart with which it is endowed. This is a movie that’s as much about having to let go and move on as it is about laughs and lightheartedness. The characters we know and love from the first film are now seniors having to get to grips with the difficult task of finding oneself and starting life anew after college ends. The story injects a lot of depth and emotion into itself by digging beneath its whimsical surface to examine how these individuals are coping with such prospects.
This also serves as the catalyst for perhaps the simplest but most powerful performance of the piece. A touching rendition of a certain signature song from the first film is particularly poignant as it emphasizes the arduous nature of change and relinquishment. It’s a theme to which plenty of people can relate and which also serves as the inspiration for the movie’s superb and spirited climactic concert.
Like narratives of any genre though, there would no excitement or emotional impact without a charismatic cast of characters and that’s something that this movie most certainly has.
Anna Kendrick steals the show once again as Bella head honcho/aspiring music producer Beca Mitchell. Still putting together her mighty mash-ups, Beca is also learning that landing her dream job may not be as easy as she expected. Kendrick does a great job of channeling the anxiety and frustration inherent in trying to realise one’s aspirations, while maintaining the charm and wit that made her character such a likable protagonist to begin with. And every time she opens her mouth to sing she inspires genuine awe. As this lady has proven time and again over the last several years, her vocal talent is truly tremendous.
While it is predominantly Beca’s story, the sequel would undoubtedly feel incomplete without the presence of lovable kook, Fat Amy. Together, these two characters are the heart and soul of the franchise. Rebel Wilson gets plenty of laugh out loud moments as the Bella veteran, evidently enjoying herself in the role as she delivers some hilarious quips and one liners. Her own singing voice is quite impressive as well, allowing her to play an integral part in bringing the movie’s music to life.
Brittany Snow gives a fine performance as Chloe, filling the void left by Aubrey as the team’s most uptight and obsessive member. The script gives her a new dimension by exploring how her reluctance to embrace a world outside of collegian a cappella singing has resulted in her becoming a stressed and irritable individual. Snow successfully conveys how Chloe is using her tenure with the Bellas as a safety net under which to hide her vulnerability and fear for the future.
Hailee Steinfeld makes an admirable effort at carving out a place for herself within the team as freshman inductee Emily. Her initial arrival at the Bella household results in some of the movie’s funniest moments. She also enjoys a comical romantic subplot with Treblemaker/magic enthusiast Benji, played again to awkward perfection by actor Ben Platt.
Other returning cast members include Skylar Astin as Beca’s boyfriend and Treblemaker counterpart, Jesse. Although, oddly enough, he plays a greatly reduced part this time. Despite having graduated, Anna Camp’s Aubrey is worked back into the plot in a way that feels natural and necessary, while Alexis Knapp, Hana Mae Lee and Ester Dean reprise their roles as Stacie, Lilly and Cynthia-Rose, respectively. All three continue to exhibit the same unique quirks that differentiated them from the pack last time, ensuring that the supporting cast is kept interesting and memorable. That being said, fellow Bellas Jessica and Ashley, portrayed by Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner, end up being fairly interchangeable background characters; a fact that is humorously alluded to onscreen when Beca admits that she’s never been sure which of them is which.
Newcomer Birgitte Hjort Sørensen does well with her tongue-in-cheek turn as de facto villain, Kommissar. She and her a cappella ensemble Das Sound Machine serve as delightfully over-the-top adversaries, despite her sidekick Pieter’s dialogue falling a lot flatter than her own. The best new addition though is Keegan-Michael Key as Beca’s boss, whose arrogant attitude and berating of his underling/nephew Dax is consistently entertaining.
While inevitably some participants get a lot more screen time than others, the cast is remarkably well balanced considering its size. The filmmakers know who works best front and centre and who is better left as backup, meaning that everyone gets a degree of focus that feels appropriate to their role. This results in a well rounded and colourful narrative, made all the more engaging by the fact that those involved seemed to be having a genuinely good time in bringing it to life.
Whether you’re a fan of the franchise or you’re just looking for a fun few hours at the cinema, Pitch Perfect 2 definitely delivers. Loaded with laughs, warmth, compelling characters and a splendid soundtrack, this is a thoroughly enjoyable summer comedy that will leave you with a smile on your face as the credits roll. To sum it up in its own terminology, it’s aca-awesome!
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