By Kyle G. King. Ahem. *blows pitch pipe to A flat* “CAAAAAAN YOOOOUUUU DIG IIIIIIT?!” A flamboyantly garbed David Cross, donning a blue paisley kimono and gold treble clef necklace, belts an effeminate imitation of the famous line from The Warriors to commence his prestigious a capella equivalent of a dance-off, as four groups of talented singers shun instrumental accompaniment to compete for the most epic of bragging rights… and $42,000 in Dave & Buster’s gift cards.
In 2012, Gold Circle Films strayed from its traditional path of horror flicks and romantic yarns to capitalize on the budding success of Fox’s trailblazing musical series Glee, as the independent production house released the big screen pseudo-musical Pitch Perfect. The part-comedy/part-drama/part-musical chronicled an underdog a capella group trying to make a name for themselves as the only all-female act at their musically flushed university. The insta-hit quickly won the hearts of theatre geeks across the globe and netted over $115 million worldwide in box office sales. This summer hosts the highly anticipated sequel to the cultfollowing original with Pitch Perfect 2: Age of Ultron — er, excuse me — Pitch Perfect 2.
After four years of asserting their badassery around campus, the Barden Bellas are the nation’s premiere a capella group and earn an invitation to perform at Mr. Barack Obama’s birthday dinner (the president doesn’t make an actual appearance). But at the group’s big performance of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball”, they inadvertently flash vagina to the leader of the free world and are publically scorned and prohibited from competing or touring on the a capella circuit. To avoid being responsible for what would certainly be the demise of the historic ensemble – as the entire group is graduating that year – they strike a deal with the International Competition of Collegiate A Cappella to remove their ban if (and only if) the Barden Bellas can take home the gold at the world stage competition in Copenhagen, an unprecedented and literally laughable feat for an American a capella team to overcome.
But just like the Bellas themselves – who begin their opening set with overconfidence that generates disaster – the initial raw humor quickly reveals an un-tenderized brashness, suggesting a lack of practice and harmonization. The first act gratingly plays out, with jokes full of an off-putting sense of entitlement and a slew of punchlines without setups. There’s no customary warm-up or attempt to gain the audience’s trust before trying out the more raunchy material: the sequel assumes you’re ready for blatantly racist and fat-shaming one-liners that sour rather than prepare your palate for the HA’s to come.
Organically grown, full belly-laughs do arrive eventually, mostly shepherded by Anna Kendrick’s natural charisma and Rebel Wilson’s unapologetic slapstickery. Kendrick’s Beca spits adoring compliments instead of burning quips to expose a secret crush on Kommissar (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), the rival German team’s female leader, and Wilson’s Amy confesses to a sexcapade involving three of the four Wiggles. The cast has “still got it” so to speak, but if you’re one of the several tokenized minority characters (originals Hana Mae Lee and Ester Dean along with newcomer Bella Chrissie Fit) all your jokes are unfortunately doomed to one-dimensional character tropes, getting laughs but little to no character development.
You’d think such comedy and character-crafting basics would come easy to veteran funny lady (and PP1 producer turned PP2 director) Elizabeth Banks. Yet Pitch Perfect 2 is her maiden voyage into the ocean of feature-length films, and perhaps she’s still learning to navigate her proverbial sails, still gaining momentum with large-format storytelling. The script, from repeating scribe Kay Cannon, is also less ironed-out than the first installment. While Pitch Perfect (I) was much more a well-exercised ensemble piece, the sequel is almost entirely Beca’s featurette as she aims to break into musical production. PP2‘s predecessor also did a much smarter and more respectable job checking itself, better handling the more questionable (and offensive) raunchy humor beats.
The unique franchise has cemented a huge following that almost guarantees additional ticket sales – fans of musicals are always hungry for well-adapted film representations, and almost always turn out in record numbers for them. Given Pitch Perfect 2‘s well-executed tones of raunchy comedy, sisterhood bonding, and collegiate coming-of-age tale, the cash cow will most likely continue producing movies. The series could even take the American Pie route of spawning a slew of sub-sequels with newer casts and different locations: and yes, I would indeed purchase a full-price IMAX ticket to see Rebel Wilson bang a pie.