And so he time has come once again to consider the comedy sequel, a small subgenre of which smart moviegoers have come to expect absolutely nothing. For although history has bequeathed us a smattering of A Shot in the Darks and 22 Jump Streets, the most we can expect from the typical comedy sequel is more of the same: the same characters, the same plot, and the same jokes, only bigger, broader and (usually) lamer.
Yet sometimes we also get a comedy sequel like Pitch Perfect 2, which plays a lot like the original but adds a smart and refreshing context. Once again The Barden Bellas, an all-female a cappella act, has to work their way to the top after a fresh bout of humiliation. Once again they will need to bond and grow together as a team to win the big competition. But whereas Pitch Perfect told an appealing story about young people finding themselves at college, Pitch Perfect 2 finds all our old heroes on their way out into the big wide world, feeling more alone and frightened than ever. As silly as they are – and they are very, very silly people – they have our pure, unabashed sympathy.
Pitch Perfect 2 takes place in a sweet and ridiculous world, in which everyone is a total dork, unless they’re the bad guys (and even then they still smell good). Every small character has eccentric and very funny things to add to the story, and they appear to have been living a real life (of sorts) between sequels. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Beca (Anna Kendrick) are closer friends than before, and can roll around on top of each other as a genuine act of affection. Also, the basement of the Bellas’ house is apparently quite haunted, a revelation that comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere else, but gives the sweet impression that their adventures between films were even crazier than this one.
This particular adventure finds the Barden Bellas disgraced after a botched concert for President Barack Obama, and the only way to repair their reputation is by winning an international competition. Their sole rival is Das Sound Machine, partly because the German a cappella group has elaborate choreography, and partly because every other competing musical act chose to sing the same song: “Any Way You Want It.” It makes for a fun montage, but seriously, what are the odds?
Meanwhile, Beca is taking her first stab at independence with an internship for a music producer who acts a lot like an over the top a-hole boss (Keegan Michael-Key), but who actually offers harsh and helpful advice. And into the Bellas’ ranks walks a new member, Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld), who has the audacity to sing her own songs in a musical environment dominated by covers. Together, these two subplots combine to form Captain Plan… um, a charming and meaningful conclusion.
But more than anything else, Pitch Perfect 2 is funny. Funny characters, funny dialogue, funny scenes, funny everything. The music is also pretty memorable, although The Bellas still have a kick-ass bass section, even though Brittany Snow’s pipes appear to have long since mended after the first film. But the filmmakers probably assume that nobody in the audience cares as much about the plot as they do the people living through it. They’re right. Pitch Perfect 2 is a welcome comedy sequel, funnier than the original, and expanding on its ideas in delightful harmony. Encore! Encore! And next time, go in the haunted basement!