Review of Elizabeth Banks’s Pitch Perfect 2

Developmental Editing by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Editing and Posting by Katie Grimes

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015). United States, 115 minutes. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, and Adam DeVine.

Pitch Perfect Still

Pitch Perfect 2 had a lot of hype to live up to. The first Pitch Perfect was a sleeper hit due to its fresh, raunchy humor, stunning musical numbers, and ridiculously talented comic cast. In a Hollywood peppered with disappointing sequels, could Elizabeth Banks, who took over direction from Jason Moore, deliver the a cappella magic as successfully as her predecessor? I believe she did.

Pitch Perfect 2 appropriately opens with a performance from the beloved a cappella group the Barden Bellas, but one that takes a disastrous turn when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) flashes President Obama. Three years have passed since we last saw them in the original Pitch Perfect, and they seem to have lost the spark that made their shows jawdropping. To boot, the girls are trying to survive their senior year of college, dealing with the thought of leaving their close group of friends to enter the world of full-time jobs. On their path to redemption at the world championships, the girls will not only face off against an intimidating challenger in the German national group Das Sound Machine, but they will also struggle to rediscover their identity as a group and re-strengthen their friendships.

Part of the appeal of Pitch Perfect, and now Pitch Perfect 2, is the large female cast. This film blows the Bechdel Test out of the water with its focus on female friendships. Despite their moments of petty disagreement, the girls empower one another. In one scene, the Bellas gather around a campfire at a retreat to discuss their anxiety about graduation. The words of support shared and the atmosphere of trust displayed shows the solidarity these women have created, a solidarity often missing in a film world that shows women pitted against each other in competition, either for professional success or male attention. Hollywood is slowly realizing that women viewers are an important audience and one they should cater to with stories that represent a fuller spectrum of their lives and their relationships to one another. Hiring Banks to direct this sequel is a step in that direction.

At first, I was disappointed by the small role that Jesse (Skylar Astin), Beca’s boyfriend, is given in the sequel. He is reduced from a main character in the first film to a mere cheerleader in the second, just as Luke Wilson’s character was in Legally Blonde 2. This move, however, allows another romance to take center stage: that of Fat Amy and Bumper (Adam DeVine). Usually a romantic plotline is not a feminist move  — it often creates the assumption that love (from a man) is necessary for a woman’s happiness. But giving an overweight character like Fat Amy a love interest while almost ignoring that of the skinny lead is a move away from traditional film narratives — and one that harkens back to Melissa McCarthy’s character in Bridesmaids. Instead of implying that overweight women must be relegated to the role of sidekicks and comic relief, Pitch Perfect 2 asserts Fat Amy’s agency as a full-fledged character with romantic desires. Not only is Amy an unconventional choice for a romance, but her character also reverses traditional gender roles. After rejecting Bumper’s initial offer to begin a serious relationship (“I can’t be tied down…I’m like a free range pony!”), she takes on the role of the pursuer when she comes to realize the depth of her feelings for him. In one particularly hilarious scene, Amy canoes across a lake while serenading Bumper with Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Amy values her independence, displays immense confidence in herself, and doesn’t feel the need to wait on a guy to proclaim her love. You go, girl.

One reason the first Pitch Perfect was so successful was its bold, in-your-face, often raunchy humor — one similar to that of Bridesmaids and Broad City, but targeted at a younger audience. This type of comedy is often relegated to male-dominated films (Step Brothers, Superbad, Anchorman, The Hangover), but recently women have been showing that they too are more than able to garner laughs with crass jokes. Pitch Perfect 2 continues in this audacious tradition, capitalizing in particular on Rebel Wilson’s comic talents and deadpan delivery. Wilson steals the show in this film, with lines like, “There’s gonna be a whole lot of haters out there, people asking, ‘Hey, why is the most talented one in the group Australian?’ But hey, I’m fat, so that’s close enough.” In addition to Fat Amy, the two a capella judges John and Gail, played by John Michael Higgins and Banks herself, claim some of the most laughable moments. John’s marked ignorance and Gail’s cheery condescension continue to be the perfect combo. At the championships, John cluelessly comments, “This could very well be the greatest conflict between America and Germany in our nation’s history!” to which Gail quickly replies, “Crack a book, John.”

The film’s attempts at diversity are commendable. Though the majority of the cast is conspicuously white, the Barden Bellas encompass Asian, Latina, and black members, one of which is a lesbian. Nonetheless, these demographics lead to one of Pitch Perfect 2’s only turn-offs: its dependence on gross stereotypes, which can be cringeworthy at times. The lines of Latina Bella Flo (Chrissie Fit) are continually about deportation and her horrifying life in South America, the German Das Sound Machine operates with the efficiency of an organized military operation, and lesbian Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) flirts with and ogles her female group mates on several occasions. Despite these pitfalls, the film succeeds in other areas. Characters of color, though stereotyped, are given their own personalities and time in the spotlight. Racial differences are not glossed over, but highlighted. At one point, Cynthia declares unapologetically, “I’m black, gay, and a woman!” which is refreshingly a point of pride for her.

If you are looking for amazing music, memorable one-liners, an appearance by some of the Green Bay Packers, and brazen humor, then Pitch Perfect 2 will not disappoint. It’s no cinematic pièce de résistance, but it uses entertaining plot elements to introduce younger audiences to basic feminist ideas — not a poor investment for a $10 ticket.

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