When Glee premiered on TV, it reminded the world that school-group acapella singing was a thing. Acapella groups have been a mainstay of college campuses for years, and the competitions are always intense. That show brought that into a high school setting and added high school drama to it; lots of drama. So much drama, in fact, that I stopped watching halfway through season 2. In 2012, a little movie called Pitch Perfect brought the college acapella competitions to the big screen in a hilarious comedy with some very entertaining numbers and several hugely non-entertaining vomit scenes.
It was co-written by Elizabeth Banks who cameoed as one of the acapella competition commentators along with John Michael Higgins (one of Christopher Guest’s improv geniuses). The movie was a sleeper hit and my biggest pleasant surprise of 2012. It was really lighthearted and fun, and was a great departure from the summer blockbuster movie madness. It easily made back its modest budget, which enabled a sequel and Banks decided to try her hand at directing it.
In Pitch Perfect 2, we catch up with the Barden Bellas, who have spent the last three years dominating the college acapella circuit. They’ve been so dominant, that they have started to ‘lose their sound’ and become more wrapped up in the ‘production’ of the performances rather than the actual singing - they're using pyrotechnics and acrobatics. As they are performing in front of the president, they have a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and Amy accidentally flashes the crowd her ‘down under’ area – she’s Australian, get it?
This results in general outrage in the acapella community and the acapella governing body bans the Bellas from competitions - oh no! What will they do!?! Well, they promptly find a loophole, and learn they can go to the ‘world championships’ which are held in Copenhagen. Meanwhile, a legacy Bella (her mother was in the Bellas while she was at Barden) joins the group; Beca (our hero from the first movie) is struggling with her internship at a recording studio while juggling her relationship with Jesse (a member of the Barden Treblemakers); Amy and Bumper continue their flirtation; the Bellas encounter Das Sound Machine (a German acapella powerhouse group); and the Bellas go on a retreat to re-find their sound – you know, general comedy hijinks. My favorite of those hijinks is the underground acapella competition hosted by an eccentric millionaire - oh, you did hear me right. It is equally as amazing as you think it is. I loved the cameos in that sequence - particularly the Packers, but also Bumper's group of all-stars.
For Elizabeth Banks’s directorial debut, the movie is done really well. The intercuts between competitions and commentators are some of the best bits, and the work towards the world competition is really entertaining. Banks manages to cram even more fun into this sequel, and keep all the characters from the first movie involved. As with the first one, the most fun in this movie is watching the group work together despite the quirks of the members.
- Anna Kendrick is once again game to take the lead as Beca – now nearing the end of her college career and anxious to start her ‘real’ life. She thinks she’s ready to leave the Bellas behind, but slowly starts to learn that she will miss them terribly. Kendrick is insanely talented, and seems to only be getting better as she gets older. She has more of an ease as Beca in this movie than she did in the first one – where Beca’s angst felt a little forced. She’s really wonderful, especially all of her improv-ed retorts to the German taunting.
- Rebel Wilson absolutely stole the first movie, mainly because no one was ready for Rebel Wilson at that point. Now that we are familiar with her, I was expecting her in this movie, so Fat Amy was less of a scene stealer than she was before. I still enjoy her off-handed one-liners, and she comes off as genuinely wacky. I did enjoy that she blew off Bumper, only to realize that she was in love with him, then the scene of her paddleboarding to him while singing just gets funnier as it goes on.
- Hailee Steinfeld is the new addition to this movie as Emily, the legacy Bella. She’s wonderfully awkward and really entertaining. I had seen her in True Grit prior to this, and so I knew she was talented at drama, but she was also very successful in this comedy. Emily so badly wants to succeed as a Bella but is also about writing her own songs – which shocks the acapella world, because they are all about covers.
- Brittany Snow again plays Chloe, and she has less to do in this movie than she did in the first – basically she is leading the Bellas, and is just there to try to keep everyone together. She gets upset with Beca for hiding the internship from her, just to provide a little in-house drama.
- Skylar Astin plays Jesse, and also has less to do in this movie than in the first one. Remember in the first one, he had to attempt to get Beca to like movies (all movies). In this one, he’s reduced to supportive boyfriend and lead of the Treblemakers. In a way, that’s good, because it makes way for…
- …Ben Platt as Benji. He was the weird magician/Star Wars kid in the first movie, but here, he’s developed into a leading member of the Treblemakers, and gets to spend some time really awkwardly flirting with Emily – really awkwardly. He actually had to take time out from playing in the Book of Mormon on Broadway to film this movie.
- Adam DeVine reprises his role of Bumper – which is good, because he was so funny in the first movie, but clearly left the Treblemakers during that movie. Here – he’s back as a security guard. Like I said, the scene between he and Wilson as Amy sings her love to Bumper is ridiculous and hilarious. Then they just proceed to roll all over the ground together.
- The absolutely wonderful Katey Sagal plays Emily’s mom Katherine, who used to be a Bella. She’s so good in so much, and it was nice to see her in this. I saw the end result of her involvement coming a long way off, but it didn’t matter, it was still really moving and wonderful!
- Anna Camp has a brief cameo as recently graduated Bella Aubrey. She is now running the motivational camp that the Bellas visit to retrieve their sound, finding that her life’s calling was to boss people around.
- Hana Mae Lee again plays Lilly – the super quiet Bella who just says really bizarre things under her breath. I was happy that was less used in this movie than it was in the first. It got really weird there, and here, it goes back to being funny. More funny-weird than funny-haha, but still – it’s better than the first.
- Songwriter Ester Dean again plays Cynthia Rose who is used to cover almost all the minority demographics - at her own admission.
- Chrissie Fit plays a member of the Bellas who seems to have been there a while, but was not in the first one – an immigrant from a different country (Guatemala, maybe? That’s not a guess, that’s how it’s presented in the movie). She’s also big into gymnastics. Okay – that’s weird.
- The two new cast members who steal a bit of the movie are Danish Actress Brigitte Hjort Sorensen and German DJ/comedian/YouTube star Flula Borg as the lead members of Das Sound Machine. They are really funny, and I did enjoy the stand offs between them the Bellas trading insults back and forth.
- One of the best parts of this is the Green Bay Packers appearing as an acapella group in a mysterious underground acapella competition that the Bellas get invited to. Nevermind the questions that arise when you think about underground acapella competitions, just go with it. The Packers were huge fans of the original, and would sing all the time in the locker room – and were thrilled to get to be in the sequel.
- The second best part of this movie is the appearance of Keegan Michael Key (the Key half of Key and Peele) as the boss of Beca’s recording studio internship. He’s just fantastic – and mostly unscripted, and I just wanted to see outtakes of him berating his employee/nephew Dax, “Say one more hipster thing, Dax….”
- The very best part of this movie is the same as the very best part of the original, and that is Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as the Acapella competition commentators. Just about everything they say is unscripted and hilarious; and I really wanted outtakes of the two of them riffing on the performances.
I have to say – I really loved this one more than the original. I felt like this one was a little more silly, had more fun performances, and really went for it. Also – so much less vomiting than the original. The movie earned $70 million in its opening weekend, which was already more than the entire first film’s domestic theatrical run of $65 million. I suppose they could go on a do a third, with Emily at the head of a new group of Bellas, but this one was fantastic, and I’d be happy with ending the series here – I’m not sure how they would top it!
8 out of 10 – super fun. Lost points for no outtakes over the end credits. Hey comedy movies – all we want is outtakes over the credits!! Gained points for the fun cameos by real Acapella groups during the competition at the end (which was actually filmed in Baton Rouge – not Copenhagen) including Pentatonix – who I love! Lost points for Beca not telling her fellow Bellas about her internship, for no real reason other than to cause drama. Gained points for Beca admitting that she still didn’t know between Bellas Ashley and Jessica which was which – and then extra bonus points for those two responding at the same time, “I’m Jessica!” So is there no Ashley? Was there never an Ashley?
Bonus Video 1: Pentatonix being awesome. If you are not already on the Pentatonix bandwagon --- get on it. Usually their covers sound better than the originals! Go ahead and take some time to fall into a Pentatonix YouTube hole.
Bonus Video 2: Reggie Watts being awesome with the cast.
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews: