Pitch Perfect 2 review: 'a joyous romp'
Dir: Elizabeth Banks; Starring: Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Katey Sagal, Brittany Snow, Alexis Knapp, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin. Cert 12A, 114 mins.
To call a film Pitch Perfect is bold; to call its sequel the same thing might be considered hubris. Luckily, actress and first-time director Elizabeth Banks's follow-up to the 2012 smash about an all-girl college a cappella group lives up to its title. Pitch Perfect 2 is a joyous harmony of bawdy humour, campus hi-jinks and crisp musical performances.
It begins in much the same way as its predecessor: with the Barden Bellas – now in their final year of college and current national champions – embarrassing themselves onstage. But this time around the humiliation is far greater than simply having your lead singer projectile vomit all over the crowd.
Indeed, watch slack-jawed as the self-styled "Fat Amy" (Rebel Wilson) suffers the mother of all wardrobe malfunctions in front of an audience including none other than President Barack Obama. Cue a montage – riffing on society's readiness to be outraged on TV and social media – that shows the girls subjected to a tsunami of vitriol and sensationalist reporting ("The FBI has ruled out terrorism," says one news anchor, dissecting the fallout from "Muffgate").
As if this weren’t enough, the Bellas then find themselves suspended from domestic competition by the two tyrants of America's college a cappella league, Gail and John, played once again by Elizabeth Banks and a gleefully misogynistic John Michael Higgins ("Let's hear it for the girls too ugly to be cheerleaders," he announces).
But all is not lost. The Bellas can redeem their reputation if they become the first ever American group to win a major global competition held in Copenhagen. Up against them are the mighty Das Sound Machine, a techno-inflected Teutonic troupe who have a fetish for leather and are led by the imperious Kommissar (Borgen's Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) and her perma-grinning first lieutenant Pieter (YouTube star Flula Borg). From this bitter inter-group rivalry Banks manages to get tons of comic mileage – a ludicrous sing-off, mediated by Arrested Development's David Cross, is one of the film's most hilarious sequences.
Pitch Perfect 2 is not all about competition, though. An arc involving Beca’s (Anna Kendrick, superb as ever) covert internship at a recording studio bubbles away nicely in the background, while a romantic subplot between Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine) culminates with a knowingly overblown duet of Pat Benatar's We Belong. That said, men play second fiddle. Not even Jesse (Skylar Astin), Beca's doe-eyed boyfriend, gets much of a look in. Such is the pervading sense of female empowerment that it comes as no surprise when Beyonce's Run the World (Girls) is unveiled as the Bellas' climactic number.
Sprightly performances abound, with Wilson making the most of her increased screen time and new addition Hailee Steinfeld (Oscar-nominated for True Grit) wringing pathos from Kay Cannon's zippy script as an ungainly first year egged on by her overzealous mother. Some of the jokes fall flat, it's true. But no matter. Funnier and sleeker than Pitch Perfect, this is a rare sequel that hits all the right notes.