Director: Elizabeth Banks
Writer: Kay Cannon
Cinematographer: Jim Denault
Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, David Cross, Elizabeth Banks, Hailee Steinfeld, Katey Segal, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Joe Lo Truglio, Snoop Dogg, John Michael Higgins, Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams, Pentatonix, Jimmy Kimmel, Rosie O’Donnell, Rosie Perez.
The Barden Bellas are back! …Kinda. After the surprise hit in 2012, the sequel finally arrives and tries to recapture the spark of the first film, and is somewhat successful in its execution. Taking on the reigns of the movie this time around is Elizabeth Banks, who makes her directing debut after producing the first film as well as returning as the on-screen commentator Gail. But more on her directing in a few.
The movie starts with the Bellas performing at Lincoln Center for President Obama, a performance that ends in a disastrous wardrobe malfunction by Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy that goes viral and lands the Bellas in hot water. Facing the suspension of their a cappella group and possible disbandment, the group must win the world championship of instrument-less singing in order to retain their status on campus and save their group. Meanwhile, Anna Kendrick’s Beca is interning for a successful music producer and faces the pressure of the real world in which her music mash-ups are not enough to get by in the music industry.
Kendrick takes a back seat in the film this time around, with the focus shifting more to Fat Amy and her awkward and adrokable relationship/rivalry with Adam DeVine’s Bumper. Also taking center stage is the addition of a new member, Emily, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Emily is a songwriter who prefers originals to covers and plays the character with so much over-eager joyfulness that I think I got a cavity just from her over-saccharine delivery of each and every line of dialogue given her.
Some of the best and greatest moments of the movie are provided by the main rivals to the Bellas’ quest to the championship title, the defending German group Das Sound Machine. Fronted by two funny and intimidating captains, DSM (as they call themselves) are at the same time hilarious, terrifying, and extremely talented. Their addition to the movie is definitely a winning one.
Where the movie goes off-course is the desire to replicate the formula of the first movie. Part of the success of the original was the astonishing breakout of the song “Cups”. What was merely one minute of screen time at the beginning of the film became a national phenomenon, spanning a remixed hit single for Kendrick, a plethora of youtube covers, and national obsession by people everywhere to master the cup trick that most middle schoolers already knew how to do. This time around, though, the movie was clearly aware of the possibilities a hit song can bring and tries to force the original tune “Flashlight” on the audience. I counted, and the song appears throughout the movie on six different occasions, it’s just not very good or memorable. Had the song been better or catchier, like the original song on Glee “Loser Like Me” and maybe the experiment would have worked.
Another problem with the film is how uneven it is. The blame here must be shared by the screenwriter and by Banks who is clearly still learning how to direct a film. Although the gang is all back, too many of the characters we cared about in the first film are barely present or given more than a handful of lines while the newcomers become central to the story too quickly and too prominently, without having earned the right to be there in the first place (Emily has three separate conversations with her mother throughout the film). Banks also seems to be a big fan of montages, split screens, shots that linger slightly too much after the action has ended, and cameras that move too quickly. These are issues for this movie, and hopefully before she gets behind the camera again she will learn to fix them (and I do hope that she does try to direct again, both because the number of female directors is far too low and because she has some good instincts and I just really like her). It must also be said that the script has some pretty grave sins, mostly concerning the jokes. I do get that the movie is overall trying to poke fun at political correctness with a wink, but one has to understand what is being made light of in order to do this successfully. That is why anytime the movie confronts sexism it does so brilliantly. The jokes are biting, raw and really shed light on social issues faced by women, all done in a tongue in cheek way and the results are enlightening as well as hilarious. Where is it clear that the writer (Kay Cannon) just doesn’t get it? Every single time she tried to do the same for matters of race and sexual orientation. They weren’t just simple misses, the jokes were downright offensive in their racism, homophobia and transphobia (haven’t we learned yet that the term ladyboy is unacceptable?). These errors were glaring, and before I am dubbed overly sensitive, I wasn’t alone in this sentiment in the movie theater or online.
That said, did I enjoy the movie? Heck, yeah! But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question or call out media when it does something wrong, even when we like the overall production. The movie is fun. I laughed out loud several times, even when I was the only one laughing (like a joke involving supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor, which clearly went over the head of some of my fellow moviegoers, because my friend and I were the only ones laughing). I was the music nerd in high school and unlike others I continued with choir in college as well with a vocal performance scholarship, so clearly even in my thirties I am the target audience for this type of movie. The music, though not as consistently great as the first film, is still quite good here and there is more of it, a lot more. Those who enjoyed the first film will have a good time during this one as well, even if it doesn’t improve on the formula. I just wish that the filmmakers had been more self-aware and made the decision to take out what ultimately were unnecessary bum-note offensive jokes that didn’t add anything of value to the movie, a movie that would have been fine without them and maybe just a little more aca-awesome.