A cappella is the worst

Despite a cappella being a blight — a pestilence! — upon mankind, there’s a lot to enjoy about the Pitch Perfect movies between dance numbers. Announcers John and Gail (John Micheal Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) are the best in so many ways. Photos courtesy Universal Pictures.

Any time “regionals” is a key word in a story’s plot, that’s a bad sign.

It’s what sunk the first montage-tastic Pitch Perfect, and even though they replace it with “worlds,” the same mechanic applies in the sequel. Due to a wardrobe malfunction in the first scene, Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) and the gang are disqualified from regionals, and nationals for that matter, as the a cappella competition board suspends them from all activity. However, as the reigning national champions, they cannot be suspended from worlds. The board agrees to reinstate them if they win the competition, which no American group has ever won.

On the side, Mitchell interns at a record producing company under an oddly unnamed boss (Keegan-Michael Key), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Bumper Allen (Adam DeVine) do it on the down low*, and the Bellas adjust to their one new member, Emily Junk-Hardon (Hailee Steinfeld).

The first thing that sticks out is the movie’s subplots — they are many and they are frail. The conflicts are almost all internal struggles to do things viewers know the characters can do — be creative, learn to love and sing good. They’re dull and boring and they clog the plot.

An additional sin the movie commits is retracing too many of the first film’s steps. They bring Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp) back at the end, and there’s an elongated and completely useless scene in a riff-off host’s (David Cross) basement that imitates the elongated but character developing pool scene from the first movie. This kind of sequence, when a movie says, “I don’t have any new ideas!” knocks big points off.

Anna Kendrick is in love with a movie nerd in these movies, that’s a good idea they have going for them. A great idea. That’s probably the best idea I’ve ever heard.

Those are both bad, but forgivable. The real problem — let’s list out what the movie got right first, because there’s quite a bit. The constant barrage of racial and sexist jokes, which the movie has gotten in trouble for, are a plus. They’re funny. They’re raunchy without being predictable. The announcers, Gail (Elizabeth Banks, who also directs) and John (John Micheal Higgins) are fantastic. Key and Cross raise the movie up several notches with their mere presence.

But the noise.

Oh, the noise.

Oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise!

The first movie was conceived to be a dorky romp about a dorky thing and not expected to have anywhere near the success it had because of it. But it’s a series now, a series based on the idea that a cappella sucks, but one that has forgotten just how much a cappella sucks.

Everyone who’s anyone knows music isn’t about rhythm and friendship, it’s about guitars, amps that go up to 11 and rage, but the first movie made $115 million, this one opened no. 1 against possibly the best action movie ever made and Glee was a national phenomenon for a few years there. Obviously, a lot of people enjoy this. But like Birdman said, billions of flies eat shit every day. This brand of shit makes millions, so we metalheads are going to have to deal with it. Sad as that may be.

This represents Banks’ directorial debut, and that’s nice. She never had a lot of success as an actor, but she’s just the third woman currently active as both an actor and a director. Her direction is nondescript. There’s nothing really out there about it. There is one nice long god’s-eye shot of the Bellas bonding at camp, but when they cut away it seems more like a failed one shot. Most directors need two or three movies to establish any kind of style, Banks did well here to just let the cameras turn.

It was a big weekend for women in film. Between Banks’ debut in a female-driven movie opening no. 1 and Fury Road at no. 2 after becoming sort of a golden calf for feminism, this will be a prime weekend to point to the next time anyone wants to prove that women can drive the box office. Then again, the equally female directed and driven Hot Pursuit bombed last weekend, so take from that what you will.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Everyone dies at the end. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

*Reelentropy published something earlier about Pitch Perfect 2’s rapey trailer, and it wasn’t that bad in the feature. Amy and Adam’s under-the-table relationship was fleshed out and she wasn’t confusing him. The trailer is still pretty bad though.

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