With Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld. John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks. Written by Kay Cannon. Directed by Elizabeth Banks. Rated PG-13 for innuendo and language. 115 minutes.
For those of you who missed “Pitch Perfect” (2012), figuring it was some sort of teen musical about a capella singing groups, you missed out on one of the funniest, off-the-wall comedies of that year. Now the singing Bellas are back in PITCH PERFECT 2, and they’re zanier than ever.
At the film’s opening, the three-time national champions are performing before none other than President and Michelle Obama when Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) has a very unfortunate accident. It leads to them being suspended from competition or recruiting new members, and the only way they can redeem themselves is by winning the world competition. This, they are told, is impossible, since everyone hates America.
Don’t worry about trying to make sense out of the plot. It’s the usual “slobs vs. snobs” comedy they’ve been making for years. What makes this work are the loopy characters and the unexpected situations and dialogue. Every time the action shifts to commentators Gail (Elizabeth Banks, who makes her feature film directing debut here) and John (John Michael Higgins), there’s no telling what’s going to come out of their mouths.
The center of the story is Beca (Anna Kendrick), who is interning for a music producer and looking to become one herself, while feeling guilty that she’s neglecting her sisters in the group. There is some romantic interest here, but the focus is on the competition, and especially the snide “Das Sound Machine,” the German group that takes every opportunity to belittle the Bellas.
The musical numbers are fun, but have their own comic edge, including an unexpected showdown featuring cameos by, among others, “Daily Show” alumni John Hodgson and Jason Jones. There’s also Katey Sagal as a Bella alumna dropping off her daughter Emily (Haillee Steinfeld), who becomes a Bella “legacy” (and also the potential means to continue the series if they want).
The two movies are what you might imagine would happen if “Animal House” was remade focusing on a female singing group rather than a bunch of frat boys. Broad slapstick and cartoonish characters are mixed with witty zingers and solid production values. Banks knows what made the first film work but doesn’t just go through the motions here. When the group goes off to a retreat to try to reconnect, the silliness of some of the more surreal characters is mixed with some feeling for a bunch of college kids who know they’re about to enter the real world. There’s been some carping about stereotyping, but the plain fact is that the movie makes fun of everyone, and none of the barbs draw blood.
“Pitch Perfect 2” isn’t the movie of the year or even the movie of the season. It is, however a very, very funny movie that shows strong, quirky, independent women working together and going after what they want without apology. As with the first film, this is a movie that will make you laugh out loud without feeling stupid.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.