Comedy sequels are a tough genre to do much with. At best (generally speaking, with exceptions, of course), they’re a cloudy reflection of a movie we liked. At worst, they take characters we love and bastardize them into generic caricatures spewing broad winky throwbacks at each other. Somewhere in the middle are the movies that are innocuous enough not to ruin our memories of the original, but bland and/or offensive enough to feel we’ve had our time wasted. Pitch Perfect 2 manages the awesome bingo of living in that entire spectrum.
Let’s get the good out of the way. (Because, honestly, there’s less of it than the other.) This movie is about characters we like, all of whom have matured and grown fairly realistically in the three years between Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) freshman year and now, her senior. At the start of the movie, the Barden Bellas, now three-time champs, are suddenly made outcast underdogs when some choreography gone wrong results in Fat Amy flashing her junk at President Obama. They now must win the world championship a cappella competition or the Bardens will be disbanded. As the group heads to ‘worlds,’ Beca finds herself distracted by an important internship at a recording studio. And while this storyline is based around the ludicrous idea that she needs to jump to the top of her field and have her entire career locked down within a few months of her first internship, and before she even graduates from college, it’s still refreshing to follow a main character whose conflict is Life Things, while her love life is relegated to the position of supportive nondramatic stability.
Other good things: There are some jokes that land. More that don’t (many, many more), but you will laugh. Specifically, anything between Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Bumper (Adam DeVine), since they saw what we responded to in the original and managed to mine it like crazy, but without killing it. Also, Keegan Michael Key as Beca’s boss is as stellar as you’d expect. In fact, when Key and Anna Kendrick have one-on-one conversations, the film settles into a place you’d actually want to stay in for much longer than allowed. This movie also knows what we’re here for. While Elizabeth Banks doesn’t seem to quite know how to direct big musical numbers, turning out more like midrange Glee music videos, they still please. We get the expected touchstones of emotional bonding through song and big, effective spectacular spectacular finale. If all you’re looking for is pretty girls singing and bonding and dancing and being kinda sassy with each other, great. This movie is what you want.
And now the not-great stuff. Pitch Perfect 2 falls victim to all of the big sequel traps. We can call it Veronica Mars Movie syndrome—where the idea of a quality movie is shoved aside in order to pander to its audience. They know what we like, and they give it to us. So yes, we get to see Fat Amy talk about how she would tear entire cities apart (with sex!), and see Hana Mae Lee (the odd, quiet, bass-dropping Lily) do that funny bit she did where she says something unexpectedly creepy, over and over and over again. It’s what we thought we wanted, but there’s a reason (probably a LOT of reasons, actually) why they don’t let fans write movies by committee.
Okay, now the weird stuff. For all its harmless derivative fluff, this movie has an aca-uncomfortable undercurrent of strange bigotry. I thought the b-word was a strong one the first few times the weirdness came up, but after nearly two hours of upsettingly frequent homophobic, transphobic, and straight-up racist jokes, it more than earned the label. This is a movie based in stereotypes. Some are harmless, like the fact that the Bellas’ ultra-German rivals are a huge, scary team based in super angular precision. Other stereotypes involve the Bellas’ sole Latina member saying things like “holy guacamole” and talking frivolously about her history of human trafficking. I wish I could not even mention the awesome Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), who f*cking SLAYS some Lauren Hill at one point, being reduced to a lascivious lesbian who has two settings: hitting on and groping eeeevvveeerrrryyyone and announcing her move to Maine to get married. In every one of these jokes, the presumed hope of satire falls totally flat. Instead, the gays and minorities and “ladyboys” (STOP, PITCH PERFECT, STOP) are the butts of these jokes. It’s an odd mean-spirited foundation for a movie about female underdog empowerment. And even weirder, it is near-constant. The cringes outweighed the laughs probably two-to-one. And while you can adjust that for my born-and-raised Californian instinctual hypersensitivity, it still doesn’t turn out in anyone’s favor.
If Pitch Perfect 2 were simply a broad, pandering whisper of its predecessor, we could write it off as innocuous fun you should sneak some wine into and giggle and tear up through. But the random yet frequent pokes at those “weirdoes” who have sex with women/talk funny/are about to be deported (hilarious!) move this from generic sequel into super weird movie that should never have been made. Or at least should have done another comb-through. So many of us were clamoring for more Bellas. We didn’t deserve this.
Vivian Kane is still holding out hope for a Cynthia Rose spinoff.