Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: Pitch Perfect 2 (The Pitch is Back!)

The Pitch is Back.

And it will be back for a third installment.  You can carve that in stone after we learned this weekend that the only thing that can beat Mad Max is the Bellas of Barden University to the tune of $70M at the domestic box office (to Mad Max: Fury Road’s $44M).  Between Pitch Perfect 2 and Furious 7, it’s been a good year at the cinema for Universal and all this success no doubt has left their deep pocketed but suddenly frugal neighbors down the street in Burbank feeling green with envy.

But all the financial success aside, Pitch Perfect 2 is very much the same movie as its predecessor only it’s different.  The movie is different from Pitch 1 in that the plot and its characters are meaner, more cynical, and thus a little less likable.  And it’s the same as its predecessor in that the creative team knows the film’s audience, knows what that fan base loves about the first movie, and gives them the exact same formula – fluffy story lines and snarky pulp references dressed up with catchy acapela mashups of pop hits from yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

There is something to be said for the ole saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but there’s a lot of truth to the caveat of “going back to the well one too many times.”  And while I muster up every possible cliché in the book to describe the experience of watching this movie, what I am trying to say is that this movie is not fun enough and its characters not likable enough to offset the been-there-done-that feeling that pervades this film.  See formula below:

Act 1: Bellas find themselves in a bit of a pickle. 
Act 2: Bellas try to come together but have a falling out while trying to remedy the issues in Act 1.
Act 3: Bellas reconcile and put things back together to deliver a rousing musical performance.

Like I said, been-there-done-that.  In a lot of ways, Anna Kendrick’s careers arc is emblematic of Pitch Perfect’s in that Kendrick used to be the cool plucky underdog in Hollywood on the fringe of the big-time churning out good performances here and there in movies such as Up in the Air and 50/50.  Then somewhere along the way (really, after the first Pitch Perfect), she became a big star not only for her acting skills, but also for her vocals and social media savvy.  And as her star shined brighter and brighter, her sharp sarcasm started to play less charming and more the product of unwarranted ego.  In much the same way, Pitch Perfect 2 feels less charming and more obnoxious – no doubt the product of the cult status its predecessor received during its post-theatrical life.

That’s not to say that the movie is not funny.  There is a lot of fun to be had with the supporting cast – Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy), Adam Devine (Bumper), Snoop Dog (Snoop Dog), and Keegan-Michael Key (Becca’s Boss) supply plenty of laughter, but Kendrick’s Becca is the rock upon which this foundation is built and whether its her performance or the way the character is written, it never really comes together for her.  She’s no longer the too-cool-for-school outsider who realizes that friends do matter, but instead the too-cool-for-school insider who decides maybe they don’t matter as much until maybe they really do. 

But very little of what I has to say here really matters, because if you were all in on the first movie, then nothing will really change how you feel, especially if you are anything like the Kool-Aid drinking crowd that I watched the movie with – a crowd that buzzed with anticipation when even David Cross came on screen.  And if you are someone who has to see the movie because the person you are with wants to see the movie, then well, you’re going to see it and endure it because you have to.  Just don’t expect a “Cups” moment or any originality.  This one’s for the congregation and there’s no need to preach.  They’re going to love it.  And for the non-believers, well, not all the music is rubbish so there’s that.

Since movie will be an A+ to those who really want to see it, and a D to those who really don’t, I’ll Split the difference and call it a C+.


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