“It’s as if the Bellas don’t know who they are anymore.” John says to his “Aca-Talk” co-host Gail midway through the meandering Pitch Perfect 2, which always manages to feel just a little off-key itself. The presumed Glee graduates turned over-the-top sexist, racist, and obliviously ‘Merican acapella commentators are once again played with spot-on chemistry and comedic timing by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, who bring one of the strongest dynamics to a film unsure of where it should focus.
Much like Becca (Kendrick) there is clearly an abundance of ambition packed into this film’s 115 minute run time. And while it should be commended, much of it feels disjointed; just as we become drawn into one character or storyline the camera quickly digresses elsewhere. Although it often tries to do too much you cannot help but fall in love with it in the end because it never doubts itself. Every single actor gives unwavering commitment to the film, from scene-stealers Keegan Michael Key as Becca’s new boss and Flula Borg and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as the male-female leaders of Das Sound Machine, the German acapella group that becomes the primary rival for the Bellas.
The set-up is simple enough. The by-the-numbers first five minutes lays out the film’s conflict when the Bella’s face extinction after the crassly charming Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has an X-rated wardrobe malfunction during a competition. In order to keep their group together they must conquer the world, literally. The Bellas are informed by John and Gail that they must win the Acapella World Championships, something of which no American group has done prior. Rather than taking the audience for a ride-along with the Bellas on their journey to the top, the film proceeds to go into several different tangents that seemingly have nothing to do with their quest to upset the Germans at the World Championships.
The first and most compelling subplot happens when Becca begins an internship with a well-known producer (Michael Key) who happens to be working with Snoop Dogg on a Christmas album. She gets coffee, feels intimidated by the adult world, and longs to showcase her talent to her blowhard boss. The scenes with Kendrick and Michael Key make up the most interesting and hilarious non-musical scenes of the film. The next subplot follows the new girl Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a Bella legacy and awkward freshman, on her quest to be accepted by the rest of the group. Emily is a fearlessly earnest girl, often to a fault, who looks up to Becca as a role model and a sister, but her lack of backstory and abrupt entrance into the plot makes it difficult to care about her role as anything other than a supplementary character; her story is the one that feels most unnecessary to the core of the film.
The audience is also treated to cluttered rehearsal montages, Fat Amy’s courting by Bumper (wonderfully reprised by Adam DeVine), a scene where they “find their voice”, air their grievances and contemplate the future after college during a group retreat, and the random brilliance of an underground basement competition at the home of a weirdo and aca-enthusiast played pitch-perfectly by David Cross. This competition, which builds to a brilliant 90’s hip-hop crescendo, is the clear highlight of the entire film and features several cameos including Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers and the multi-talented Reggie Watts, who lead the groups trying to keep up with the Bellas and team Das Sound Machine. At around just the two-thirds mark though, the culmination of this competition feels like the climax of the story and struggles the remainder of the film to give weight to the grand finale at the World Championships in Copenhagen.
Despite the sometimes clunky pacing, predictability, and too many primary characters to efficiently juggle at once, Pitch Perfect 2 holds its own and has the ability to convert even the harshest cynics into supporters with its genuine optimism and grin-and-bear-it disposition. Though it does not quite stack up to its predecessor it is still able to fight through its flaws and finds a harmony that resonates after the credits roll.