Putting together a vocal arrangement that sounds both perfect and unexpected isn’t easy. Sure, anyone with a basic understanding of music knows which notes sound good together. Just stick to intervals and, to the average ear, things are fine. But they’re also boring, and what gave a cappella groups a bad rap in the first place. You need to take risks.Be brave enough to fail. And if you do fail, own it. Or, like they say in jazz: If you make a mistake, play it twice.
Pitch Perfect 2 is not the repeat of a mistake (I really enjoyed the original), but it does take morerisks, doubles down on them, and it pays off. It’s that rarest of comedies that’s better than the original in almost every way.The jokes are crasser, and land even better. The music is more energetic, but also emotional. The film even manages to create a team-equivalent tap-along to the famous Cups song that became an internet and campfire craze three years ago (for every girl under 16 years old). The odds of this happening, and working again, were next to nil.
In fact, on paper the film feels like it’s committing the Mighty Ducks 2 sin of needlessly jumping to the international stage when the first one was only based on a local championship. But D2 this is not – it’s PP2, which sounds like a juvenile joke that Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy would have made. But she probably would have made it work, too.
See, in the same way throwing a bunch of funny people in front of a camera won’t automatically make it a funny movie, most people don’t understand how it’s the unexpected and borderline dissonant additions that make a vocal arrangement special. You need complimentary but unique voices that can work together to create something harmonious. Then, you need to make sure everyone isn’t trying to out-Beyoncé each other – yet still gets a moment to shine. Just like comedy. And Pitch Perfect 2 finds that balance.
The film not only manages to bring in nearly every single character from the first film, but also gives us a few more to fill out the corners – from the over-eager and slightly awkward newbie played by Haillee Stanfield, to a Latino character with countless immigration horror stories, to a host of great antagonists (including Keegan Michael-Key). It takes a lot of love and care to keep this formula fresh, but razor-sharp 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon is once again up to the task. She’s helped in no small part by Elizabeth Banks, who makes an impressive feature directorial debut after producing the first Pitch Perfect. In fact, even her own on-screen exchanges with John Michael Higgins are miles funnier than the original. As bitter a cappella commentators, it feels as though they finally found their voice in this film, as opposed to being stuck in cut-away rescue-joke mode.
In other words, the whole sounded just great to me.