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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pitch Perfect 2

After that murders row of horrible, horrible comedies that I've reviewed over the last couple of weeks, boy did I need this!

The first Pitch Perfect was an unexpected smash and an even more unexpected comedy gem, but it wasn't necessarily one that was begging for a sequel. Of course, when the numbers add up, a franchise must be born so here we are three years later with a followup that is very nearly as good as the original. It has a couple of slight flaws, to be sure, but it's overall a real delight that easily deserves the big box office numbers it's sure to get.

The story this time around does not quite have the perfectly measured simplicity of its predecessor, but it works well enough. And even if the film's half dozen or so subplots do often threaten to overwhelm its primary plot, they still work perfectly well on their own terms. As such, the main narrative thread of the Bellas needing to climb their way back to respectability after a disastrous show for the president all but sinks their career has to share the spotlight with Beca's (Anna Kendrick) new internship, Fat Amy's (Rebel Wilson) weird, weird relationship with Bumper (Adam Devine), Chloe's (Brittany Snow) struggle with the idea of life after the Bellas and newcomer Emily's (Hailee Steinfeld) attempt to fit into the group as a "legacy" with songwriting aspirations.

This much plot does also mean that most of the supporting characters may get some great gags (Hana Mae Lee once again all but steals the show as the hilarious psychotic-non-sequitur-spouting Lilly) but are very much stuck in the background in terms of character development and plot. Weirdly, this also includes the first film's male lead, Jesse (Skylar Austin) who is basically stuck playing what is, when the genders are switched, the "doting girlfriend" role.

Rounding off the film's frankly quite minor flaws, is more of a personal preference than any sort of objective problem, but I once again really can't get behind most of the music in the film. The a capella performances are incredibly well done, to be sure, and with the introduction of the Bellas' new arch-rivals in the form of Germany's Das Sound Machine, things are taken to the next level performance-wise. And yet, as I don't generally "get" hip hop and really quite strongly dislike the form of pop music that's derived from it, much of the film's soundtrack is totally lost on me. Aside for another tremendous appearance from Anna Kendrick's smash single, Cups (which, go figure, was apparently derived from an old bluegrass song, albeit via the Lulus' cover), the only thing I really had to hang onto, musically speaking, were some ultra-cheesy '80s pop tunes that the girls use to "get back to the old Bella's sound". And when cheesy '80s pop is the (secondary) musical highlight, you know you're in trouble.          

Still, all things considered, these flaws are ultimately pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Pitch Perfect 2 overwhelms its negatives with enough charm, wit, heart and big laughs to fill a couple dozen average Hollywood comedies.

Stepping behind the camera for her directorial debut, Elizabeth Banks matches her hilarious (and increased) role as one half of the film's “Greek Chorus”-like a-cappela-commentating duo (along with the always brilliantly funny John Michael Higgins) with non-flashy but confident direction and a sense of comic timing that many veteran comedy directors would burn down entire villages for. Honestly, between Banks' pitch perfect (heh) direction and Kay Cannon's wonderfully warm-hearted and gut-bustingly funny script, the film could easily have been something of a success even without the film's excellent cast. With them, though, it becomes something really kind of wonderful.

Anna Kendrick is once again perfect as the film's likeable, sharp-witted but slightly curmudgeonly anchor/ straight-man, around whom the zany cast of characters are both allowed to bring the funny (lots and lots of the funny) and are held back just enough to prevent the film from ever tipping too far over into outright cartoonish nonsense. Her character may not be the funniest member of the cast but, like all the best “straight-men (and straight-women) she is actually the reason why so much of the comedy works as well as it does and why characters like Fat Amy aren't just incredibly funny (Rebel Wilson ups her game even further here) but are recognizably human too.

And, really, when you get right down to it, the reason why Pitch Perfect is as loved as it is and why - I can practically guarantee it - its sequel will be just as adored, is precisely because of its perfect balance of heart and laughs. It really doesn't matter how messy the plot is or how questionable the song-choices are, it's simply impossible to not love a film that is both this funny and this good-natured and warm-hearted. That it's also wonderfully acted, wittily written and smartly directed certainly doesn't hurt either. 

I am kind of worried/ curious to see how they continue the franchise after the way this ended though...

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