Friday, May 22, 2015

"Pitch Perfect 2"

 3.5 / 5 

Hyperactive, hyper-sexual, hyper-aware, Pitch Perfect 2 is a direct descendant of the Airplane!-style movies where jokes come faster than you can react to them, and when one of them lands with a thud, who cares?  The movie just gleefully, effortlessly moves on to the next one.

There is a plot in Pitch Perfect 2, which has to do with the Barden Bellas, the singing group from the first movie, competing in the world acapella championships, but that's entirely beside the point.  The movie, directed with humor and flair by Elizabeth Banks, just cares about the laughs, and since the majority of them are delivered with, well, perfect pitch, the details of the story are merely window dressing.

The cast from the first movie reassembles, including Anna Kendrick as the leader of the singing group, Rebel Wilson as its most wildly inappropriate and oversized personality, Britany Snow as its most ambitious member.  They're the leads, but they're surrounded by surreal supporting players like Hana Mae Lee as the a reclusive and oddball Korean girl, Ester Dean as a spirited lesbian, and, hanging around like the original Mousketeers, the "other ones" who lurk in the background.  (The movie plays some sly tricks with these borderline-extras, including a moment where Kendrick's Becca admits she's not sure which one is which.)

The sequel makes some assumptions that the audience has seen the first film, but if you haven't, you'll miss very little.  The Barden Bellas have achieved some national fame after winning whatever championship they won in Pitch Perfect, and begin Pitch Perfect 2 with an outrageously catastrophic performance in front of President and First Lady Obama.

They fall from grace rather spectacularly, but find a way to redeem themselves, and as far as plot goes, that's about it.

All Pitch Perfect 2 really wants to do is create clever and elaborate jokes, situations that escalate like a plot-driven Goldberg device until they pay off with mostly impressive punchlines, the bulk of which can't be repeated despite a highly questionable PG-13 rating.  The parents next to me may have regretted bringing their 8-year-old girls to see this, though even the raunchiest, most sexually oriented humor (and there's a lot of that) is presented with such levity it's not possible to be really offended.  That said, if hearing "vagina" and its many synonyms causes discomfort, Pitch Perfect 2, which also seems to relish in jokes about lesbianism, might not be your thing.

The music is presented as impressively this time around as it was the first, though even it takes a backseat to the rapid-fire verbal and visual silliness.  A subplot about Becca getting an internship at a recording studio seems more like a digression than an integral part of the proceedings, but its lightened by a small-but-memorable performance by Keegan-Michael Kay as a megalomaniac music producer who dreams of a Christmas album recorded by Snoop Dogg/Lion.

What kind of sense does that make?  About as much as anything in the film, including the imposing, hard-edged, black-clad German acapella troupe that becomes the Barden Bellas' biggest competition.

Pitch Perfect 2 just bounces along giddily from scene to scene, not pausing to care whether any of it really goes together.  The movie brings in Hailee Steinfeld from True Grit as a new member of the Bellas, and since she's actually 18, her presence suddenly make the rest of the cast look about as age-appropriate as Stockard Channing playing a high-school student in Grease.

Maybe it would be worth caring about inadequacies of plotting and characterization in another film, but Pitch Perfect 2 is such a happy lark it just speeds past any little bump it finds.  As a director, Banks wants to keep things moving -- though she also shows some real style in shooting the musical scenes, and knows when to let the actors, instead of the camera, carry the comedic moments.  It's an impressive feature debut, which shows off her desire to please the audience.

It works. What might come across as crass, unformed or even desperate in another movie feels here like it's all part of the whole -- a whole that, like the Bellas themselves, just wants the audience to love it.  In the end, it's kind of hard not to.  Pitch Perfect 2 is a movie that sends you out of the theater wearing a broad, well-earned smile, and that's something that happens all too rarely these days.

Viewed May 22, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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