Magazine article Variety

Pitch Perfect 2

Magazine article Variety

Pitch Perfect 2

Article excerpt

Pitch Perfect 2

DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Banks

STARRING: Anna Kendrick. Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld

When Beyonce's brisk female-empowerment jam "Run the World (Girls)" kicks off a key musical number in "Pitch Perfect 2," it plays as something of a mission statement for the film itself: Both behind and in front of the camera, women call every shot of consequence in this ebulliently entertaining, arguably superior sequel to the 2012 musical comedy hit. Continuing the bawdy misadventures of all-girl, college a cappella group the Barden Bellas - this time as they get their motley act together on a global stage - Kay Cannon's script is even lighter on narrative than its predecessor, but fills any resulting void with a concentrated supply of riotous gags, and a renewed emphasis on the virtues of female collaboration and independence. Actress-producer Elizabeth Banks' eminently credible feature directing debut should, in its own parlance, crush it at the global box office, sustaining a franchise with potential to outlive the "Glee" fever that inspired it.

In a typically testosterone-heavy summer movie landscape, "Pitch Perfect 2" stands out not just for its expanded female ensemble, but for passing the Bechdel test on a scene-to-scene basis. While the first film hinged heavily on battle-of-the-sexes friction, the returning male characters here have largely been relegated to afterthought status, as postgraduation questions of career and selfsufficiency weigh heavily on the Bellas. A degree of democratization, meanwhile, has taken place within their ranks. If Anna Kendrick's aspiring music producer Beca is still the ostensible protagonist of the piece, it's only by a hair: Rebel Wilson benefits from a beefed-up role that amply accommodates her improvisatory abilities, while new recruit Hailee Steinfeld is afforded the most sympathetic arc as the youngest inheritor of the group's selfdescribed legacy.

The creative twinning of Steinfeld's character with Kendrick's - she is the songwriter to the latter's musical director - makes it clear that the "True Grit" star is being groomed as the lead for future sequels. With any luck, those installments will ask more of the franchise's commendable spread of minority Bellas: Soft-spoken Korean eccentric Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and new Latin American exchange student Flo (Chrissie Fit) are one-joke props, albeit funny ones, while Ester Dean's African-American belter Cynthia Rose identifies as a lesbian only in the most cautious terms.

Happily, "caution" is rarely the operative word of a film that begins with a spectacular vagina-related pratfall and maintains that level of cheerful impertinence throughout. Three years have passed since the Bellas became national a cappella champions, and they've held that title ever since; now all in their senior year (including Brittany Snow's dim-bulb former leader Chloe, stubbornly staying a seventh year in college), they are eager to go out with a bang. Not quite the bang, however, that follows a botched Lincoln Center performance for President Obama that culminates in an onstage crotch reveal by the self-styled Fat Amy (Wilson).

To add injury to insult, the Bellas are stripped of their showcase performing duties by the conservative gatekeepers of America's college a cappella league, once more deliciously played by Banks herself and Christopher Guest alum John Michael Higgins, whose blithely bigoted asides count for many of the pic's heartiest laughs. …

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