If you dig through the archives and pull up my review on the first Pitch Perfect, you'll find a sour bit of writing about that film's total inability to live up to the strength of its conceit. It didn't know how to use the strengths it had, the thing was a tonally uneven, unfunny disappointment, there was no real characterization, etc, etc. Simply put: I didn't like it. As time went on and that film wormed its way into the good graces of many a bored channel surfer, I found myself really growing to hate and resent it in a way I reserve for only the greatest misfires. It wasn't just that I thought Pitch Perfect was a spectacularly flat film, it was that for some reason everyone else seemed to love it in spite of its total redundancy.
I still don't like it. So, yes, it's a little bit surprising that I wound up planted in a reclining theater seat on a Saturday afternoon, ready to subject myself to a litany of one-note jokes and cheesy pop covers yet again. This is perhaps the finest proof that I can offer that I am, occasionally, an optimist. Even after a couple of years spent rolling my eyes over how much folks loved that dumb little movie, I came back because I had a lingering glimmer of some kind of stubborn hope. My hatred stemmed from the fact Pitch Perfect didn't live up to the raw potential it so clearly had, and which I still believed it could display. This time? Without the expository burdens of the first movie? I thought just maybe the sequel would be able to live up to its comedic promise. So you're wondering...did it get there?
Emphasis on the teen, emphasis on the ensemble, emphasis on the comedy.
For a franchise that spent far too much time trying to piece together saccharine individual struggles and push its stand-out individuals into "unique" and "important" subplots, understanding the value of the group dynamics as a whole is a pretty major step. The Barden Bellas now feel like a believable unit, and the subplots away from core competition tend to impact the collective in a way that allows them to actually make sense. When we see Beca (Anna Kendrick) take an internship at a recording studio, for example, we can see the way it strains her relationship and role in the group. When Fat Amy continues her tumultuous relationship with Bumper (_____), we understand that this is something that the group is pulling for, that they've been silently hoping they'd figure it out for some time in that way that, well, friends do. These may be seem like unnecessary things to ask for from a film designed to be silly, but they make a major difference. This time, it feels like there are stakes and this time the girls actually get to be the focus instead of being crushed under the weight of fake vomit and forced love interests.
The Germans are a definite bright spot in the film, as I think it's fair to say that there are few people who can resist the humor of a well-used Bavarian accent, and they're arguably a far better team than the Bellas. So, naturally, the girls are forced to fight back with heart and moxy. The result? Well, it's not "Cups" (thank god), but there's a new overly sincere number and a little more "feeling" than showmanship. If I'm being completely honest, it's a little weak. It's also a little bit anti-climactic. Still, I have to admit that I enjoyed the sophomore effort of the Barden Bellas. If there's a third go, though? Lose the underdog attitude. We don't need to see them come from behind any longer, the game has changed.