Pitch Perfect 2 – Allegory, satire or something else entirely?

 

Pitch Perfect 2 presents an interesting juxtaposition. It seems to be all about striving for originality and finding your own voice yet the film itself is totally formulaic and predictable. How does that work?
Seriously, the whole set up is remarkably derivative of not only the first Pitch Perfect but also other adolescent competition movies like Street Dance, Bring It On and School of Rock. We get the early failings and humiliations, the group conflicts, the seemingly unbeatable team of panto villains, the rediscovering their mojo montage and the nervous waiting in the wings before the final performance. It is all pretty cliched.
Yet the plot itself is almost a metaphor for young people’s desire to follow the crowd conflicting with their need to grow into remarkable and singular adults competing in a grown up world that will not reward mediocrity. Think about it, in the cosseted world of college the girls have found great success by singing other people’s tunes and are shunned for trying something new. They kid themselves that what they are doing is original but they are just repeating the actions of generations who have come before them, albeit with a new spin. They think they have skills that will transfer to a wider world but actually their field of expertise is outdated, insignificant and uncelebrated in real life. Most people in the film who have held on to these narrow musical ideals post graduation are portrayed as sad and unsuccessful or misguided and laughable. When Anna Kendrick’s Becca tries to impress others with her a capella skills and achievements she fails to do so and is given the wake up call that she will have to do something truly different if she wants to stand out and do well. I am surprised that Mama Cass’ Make Your Own Kind of Music isn’t one of the songs riffed in the vocal mash ups. The moral of this tale is not subtle.
How then are these two aspects of the film reconcilable? It is possible that the whole thing is actually some kind of parody. At the start it does seem to be commenting on the influence of an gossipy internet fuelled media and at one point the girls randomly engage in a pillow fight apparently just so that savvy Becca can tell them they are putting gender politics back twenty years. Seriously, in places the film is almost satire. Perhaps it is all supposed to be seen as a postmodern lampooning of youth culture and teen movies.
To be honest I think I’m desperately reading too much into it to give it some validation it really doesn’t deserve. The thing is though, at the end of the day, as I think the film makers know, none of this matters. In truth Pitch Perfect 2 is essentially just a selection of one liners and musical numbers strung together by a loose plot with an amiable and amusing cast but this is enough. Nothing more is needed to keep the audience happy for 115 minutes. This isn’t a great film by a long shot but I laughed and I had a good time (and I’m not even close to being the target demographic).
The jokes come pretty thick and fast and while I’m not young enough and American enough to get all of the references (I didn’t know Sonia Sotomayer was a US Justice of the Supreme Court until I Googled her so I didn’t see why it was funny she’d be sending puerile hate mail) there are other cultural touch points I can appreciate (‘You are the most talented person I know, and I know three of The Wiggles.’ That’s a good line). Rebel Wilson delivers a great deadpan quip and makes much of the movie a comedy of manners with inappropriate comments and fart gags (which everybody can enjoy).
Some of the humour is deliberately close to the line and there is a little bit of outdated racial stereotyping but depending on your sensibilities (and your nationality) this may or may not worry you. I do wonder how amusing the film would be for a German audience for example and I suspect some Indians may raise an eyebrow too at a few of the background characters. None of it is malicious though. 
Still, if you liked the first one and you are just after a fun evening you could do worse. The film is not this generation’s Grease and Anna Kendrick is not the new Julie Andrews but Pitch Perfect 2 is pretty much what you’d want (and predict) from the Barden Bellas.

The Ripley Factor:

Pitch Perfect is a very female centred story and the Bechdel Test score would be off the chart. In terms of gender politics though it very much comes from the Spice Girls school of feminism. Girl power! Yay!
The group of women at the centre of the action do largely come in regular shapes and sizes too; they are not just all Hollywood thin which is good. This is slightly undermined by Wilson’s Fat Amy who is confident in her body but who’s weight is a constant source of humour which doesn’t feel entirely right on. Just like the rest of the film, it’s a bag of confusion contradictions. 
It this one for the kids?
If you’ve seen the first Pitch Perfect then expect much the same from this one. It is highly suggestive and has a little swearing in it but nothing that’s not suitable for the 12A certificate, not really. I wouldn’t watch it with my grandmother but I did watch it with my 11 and 13 year old daughters and that was fine.

 

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2 thoughts on “Pitch Perfect 2 – Allegory, satire or something else entirely?

  1. You make many excellent points, I just came out of the film with a completely different feeling than you did. Nothing wrong with that, though! And judging by how few people laughed at the Sotomayot joke here in the U.S., I doubt they knew who she was either. That’s America for you. Great review!

  2. Thanks, I enjoyed your write up too. I don’t think we differ that much, you clearly enjoyed it more than me but we both saw the flaws and at the end of the day we both enjoyed it. I thought the ‘aca wiedersehen’ was particularly amusing. If only I had some friends in a German a capella group to say it to.

    Next up for me is Mad Max: Fury Road. I wasn’t that interested but the reviews over here have been excellent so I’m going to see what all the fuss is about. It looks like there will be something to say about the gender politics too.

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