Hollywood has an enduring love affair with American educational institutions. It romanticises all manner of sporting forwards and backwards, pays tribute to the myriad of social sects – helpfully arranged into frats and sororities – and now lavishes love on the (unnervingly) ebullient musical troupe.
University acapella group the Barden Bellas breeze back into cinemas in Pitch Perfect 2, hot on the tail of its 2012 predecessor’s box office storm. When a wardrobe malfunction sees Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) make an inappropriately-explosive stage entrance before Barack Obama, the Bellas’ reputation is in tatters. Their subsequent bid to reclaim the limelight from Amy’s knicker-less derrière and ‘rediscover their sound’ sees them enter an international championship.
The original format is retained, but the poppy mashups, frequent sing-offs and amusing caricatures, most notably the snarling German frontman of rival group Das Sound Machine (Flula Borg), weave together thinner, more disparate plotlines. An intense Anna Kendrick is underutilised as Beca, sneaking off daily to a record company internship; new recruit Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) aspires to be a songwriter (yawn) and Fat Amy enjoys a no-strings love life that suits her aversion to underwear.
But this haphazardry doesn’t matter too much in the end, because as well as a host of high-tempo, albeit now outdated, chart-toppers, from “Wrecking Ball” to “Run the World (Girls)”, we are gifted with Rebel Wilson. Wilson’s unapologetic humour, frequently delivered with the impassivity and improvisational skill of a great comic, is met with peals of laughter. At one point she laments the existence of woodland ‘booby-traps’ – “Boobs should never be trapped!” – before herself becoming ensnared. Screenwriter Kay Cannon rightly devises such slapstick moments for an actress whose forte, aside from deadpan quips, lies in physical comedy. Even low-key improvised gestures channel farce.
Pitch Perfect’s sequel continues to water down Glee’s eccentricities, with Cannon earnestly attempting, but somewhat failing, to dress it up as a genuine ‘minorities and misfits’ movie. Stereotypes are ridiculed by token minority characters, Latino Flo (Chrissie Fit) relating everything to abduction and deportation. But such self-conscious characterization, as well as the use of bizarre non-sequiturs (Lily: “All my teeth come from different people”), have been made predictable by Glee. Besides, a generic wardrobe – all plain tees, mini-skirts and even mundane office garb for a final number – plays it safe for Hollywood, undermining the ‘creative misfits’ label that Cannon strives to apply.
All considered, the PP franchise remains a refreshing take on that bastion of American popular culture, the light-hearted, cheesy college flick. The Legally Blonde brand of bitchiness and superficiality is generally expelled, while reckless abandon is muted for the benefit of a younger audience. There’s still a party round a pool though. And red cups. Everyone loves a red cup.