Hold what you love to a high standard.

C+

Pitch Perfect 2
Universal Pictures
Rave 20 and Quality 16

The acting, spearheaded by Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) as the irresistibly not-so-alt Beca Mitchell, was charming and lighthearted. Kendrick hit her notes. The music was groovy. But “Pitch Perfect 2” won’t make you feel happy like an old-time movie because the direction hit somewhere between amateurish and hand-me-a-drink awful, with insidious gags and hurtful tropes suffocating the cast. First-time feature director Elizabeth Banks went for the low-hanging fruit, and the film never found its sound. The project of “Pitch Perfect 2” presented weird and glorious opportunities; we really needed Banks to step up here. Musical comedy deserves better than ironic caricatures.

The Bellas, our a cappella heroes, find themselves in a graphically embarrassing situation and spend the rest of the movie recovering. The long-term objective is clearly outlined, and the once-again underdogs wander towards victory without serious conflict. A sense of community redeems our troupe. The message of power in voice and friendship is parodied and undermined by a giggling carelessness in execution. The supporting actresses’ identities are little more than running gags.

Rebel Wilson — playing “Fat Amy” — does her damnedest to make her character a complex person. Her fearlessness in spite of scorn — both in-universe and from the audience — is phenomenal, but in her grand romantic denouement, she’s directed to present herself more as “Fat” than as “Amy”, as though overweight people’s relationships can never be more than a joke. Sure, the franchise gets points for including her at all, but it’s not a win when the primary cinematic value of a token character is ostensibly their tokenhood.

This problem is redoubled in the case of the Black lesbian whose name we forget, the over-sexualized girl whose name we forget, the quietly psycho Asian girl whose name we forget and the cute illegal immigrant girl whose name we forget, who constantly makes jokes about how horrifying life ACTUALLY IS for REAL PEOPLE in REAL PLACES in the REAL WORLD. And this is a light comedy? No, this is a dark comedy. You might not notice, because everyone is smiling and adorable. But damn, the darkness.

It’s Alanis-Morissette-ironic, dwelling in that coincidental poverty of humor: the vagina flash, the lesbian hilariously turned on by sharing a tent with her straight girlfriends, the Mexican student joking about deportation. But these sour notes can’t touch Kendrick, who carries the film. Kendrick’s interactions with the German a capella group, Das Sound Machine, are deliciously awkward, touched with a confused sexual tension that has the audience cooing, and Keegan-Michael Key owns every scene he’s a part of, his effervescence legitimizing the absurd cameo of Snoop Dogg.

But the dramatic turns feel forced. There’s an underground pajama party staged just to give “Pitch Perfect 2” an opportunity to represent musically the way “Pitch Perfect” did, and even worse, when the Bellas go away to a camp to rediscover “their sound”, the atmosphere of the bonding is disappointingly low-intensity, as though the director only noticed three-quarters of the way through the movie that the script saw insufficient conflict. The door of the film is left open for a sequel, but Kendrick’s intended replacement, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”) doesn’t have the stage presence to fill Kendrick’s shoes, despite Steinfeld’s organic puppy romance with the adorkable Benji (Ben Platt, “Pitch Perfect”).

We adore this franchise, but we wanted the full wit and power of these ladies to leave us aca-stounded. Even if the magic of the music glimmered through, the greater whole was a hot mess.

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