Now with bonus second review!
Being in New Zealand has taken me outside my comfort zone more times than I can count, but perhaps the biggest leap of all was agreeing to watch Pitch Perfect 2 at the cinema. I watched the original film the night before, and I did my best to walk into that screening with an open mind. To complete this exercise in studied tolerance, I’m writing a review.
The most difficult critiques to write are those for which you feel no passion. Films that unleash your joy or anger are easy to discuss; films that stoke your apathy less so. Here’s the thing about Pitch Perfect 2: it’s absolutely, monumentally… okay. It aspires to little and achieves it competently. It’s mostly engaging, sporadically amusing and genuinely funny on maybe two occasions. It’s predictably predictable and induces moments of utter wincing awfulness, but not enough to derail itself. It’s mostly populated with tedious, often offensive stereotypes, but when it can be bothered to aim for actual characterisation, it manages to make it stick.
Pitch Perfect 2 looks and feels like a TV show, from its flat, staged direction to its overly-bright make-up and design. Even the plot structure seems to have been condensed from a TV series’ narrative: it’s an ensemble piece with multiple, tangential, unconnected plot lines. Herein lies the film’s first major issue: plot-wise, it’s total carnage. It starts with an obvious protagonist, except then it suddenly reboots to a different one. Shortly it loses faith and changes back, before finally panicking and switching focus to characters seemingly at random. There’s a nice reversal of the theme in the first film – that was about taking risks and pushing boundaries, this is about reflecting on who you are and staying true to yourself. Unfortunately the message is largely lost amidst the confusion over whose story is important and where our attention is supposed to be.
Ultimately, despite all the added fat, the bones of the story are almost identical to the first one (The Hangover suffered from a similar affliction). The opening scene is a conceptual doppelganger, minor characters make exactly the same jokes, and there’s even a ludicrously forced impromptu sing-off (this time in a billionaire’s basement), which would be the worst scene of almost any film it could be spliced into.
Yet it’s not a bad film. It’s mostly good-natured and it mostly gets away with its mean-spirited moments under the guise of satire. In fleshing out more of its characters, we care about them more too, and there are some genuinely touching moments that still have the confidence to skew funny instead of cloying. (Most of these moments are relatively quiet, and the bombastic, cringe-inducing finale is not one of them.)
Anna Kendrick and Hailee Steinfeld are both excellent in two of the lead roles, and first-time director Elizabeth Banks has a good sense of comic timing (as one would expect). The women are pushed to the fore and the men take even more of a back seat than in the first film; even the primary antagonist is now a woman. Really it’s just a shame that the narrative still felt it had to have three separate love stories to drive character motivation – at least two of them could have been stripped out entirely without anything being lost.
This film pushes very few boundaries and very rarely steps out of its own comfort zone. It doesn’t really have anything to say and is content to worship at the already over-crowded altar of Hollywood comedy tropes. Then again, not every movie has to change the world. In my screening at least, people laughed. And so – dare I admit it? – did I.
And now, as an exclusive added bonus, let’s try and get Molly to review it as well by transcribing everything she says and stripping it of all context so she sounds like a narcissistic insane person. (CAUTION: SWEARING.)
I have no words to express my – I haven’t decided yet. No, don’t say that! Stop it. You’re an arsehole. I’m tired. You told me I’m dying of a disease.
Oh for fuck’s sake, Jonathan. Oh my god.
It was a very good film.
It was a funny film.
Everyone’s going to think I’m a total – oh for fuck’s sake, Jonathan. You have to put the stuff that you’re saying too, because otherwise it makes me look like – oh my god I hate you.
Don’t put this in, but you could totally make a blog out of me. That would make it famous. Oh for fuck’s sake. You’re so mean.
It was just funny. I just liked it. Don’t ask me on demand, I can’t say anything on demand. I don’t like the pressure.
Oh for fuck’s sake.
You’re just like one of those stupid things on Harry Potter that keeps on writing. Aaaargh! Rita Skeeter is who you are. With the stupid glasses. And the annoying haircut. I can’t be bothered to – no, I’ll be quiet.
Haha, I’ve got an app for Aldi on here. Oh my – for god’s – just –
My trousers are so tight – you said you’d stop! Why have you put that in there? Oh no, I put that in there. Are you still doing the thing? Oh my god. Could you get my milk? For fuck’s sake. You should put: caution, swearing. Do you mind if I have the Crunchy Nut? We’ve got loads. Do you mind if I use the milk as well? Oh for fuck’s sake. Can you get me a spoon?
It’s my birthday! Can you chuck me my phone? Happy Birthday to me!