Ed. Note (3/20/14): I was in a bad mood. I actually rather like Pitch Perfect these days, and I still love Rebel Wilson. Damn that “Cups” song, though.
Directed by Jason Moore
Screenplay by Kay Cannon
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Skylar Astin, Freddie Stroma, Alexis Knapp, Adam DeVine, Ester Dean, Brock Kelly
How long is Pitch Perfect? 112 minutes.
What is Pitch Perfect rated? PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references.
A cappella flick fails to hit the right notes.
A cappella is serious business, according to this weekend’s PG-13, teen-centric opener. Unfortunately, Pitch Perfect can’t expect to be taken seriously. With stars like Anna Kendrick (Oscar-nominated for Up in the Air, the best part of the Twilight movies) and Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids), it was a good prospect – a movie featuring funny women being funny, with singing and dancing! What’s not to like? But thanks to bad writing, shallowly drawn characters, and misuse of comediennes, it just can’t hit the high notes.
Beca (Kendrick) starts college at Barden, the same school where her divorced father teaches. In order to avoid his well-intentioned meddling, she follows her sullen roommate Kimmy Jin to the activities fair, the place where collegiate dreams go to be corralled. In this land of school-sponsored camaraderie and ego, she encounters Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (True Blood’s Anna Camp), the remaining members of Barden’s all-girls a cappella group, The Bellas. In a tragic incident last spring, Aubrey projectile-vomited orange goop all over the stage at last year’s International Championships of A Cappella, and they are doubly determined to regain their dignity.
Dignity, however, seems at a premium when the two women are forced to scrape from the “bottom of the barrel” at Barden to achieve their eight-person quota. Fat Amy (Wilson) is, well, The Fat One. Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) is The Weird One. Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean) is the Token Lesbian. Stacie (Alexis Knapp) is the Oversexed One. Beca, The Sullen but Actually Invested One, rounds out the group. This is how any sports comedy goes: star athlete leads team to the finals, lets team down horribly, is forced to redeem himself by taking on new, “alternative” teammates and changing his whole mindset.
As the fall semester ramps up (not that you’d know it, as no one ever goes to a class in the movie), the rival a cappella group on campus, The Troublemakers, recruits Beca’s fellow radio station intern Jesse (Skylar Astin), an adorable, geeky movie buff. (It may be that I’m a bit of a sucker for movie geeks in film, but that’s for another day.) Since part of The Bellas’ oath is “I will never engage in sexual activity with a Troublemaker, or my vocal cords will be ripped out and eaten by wolves,” Jesse’s status as rival is supposed to be an obstacle. Actually, the obstacle is Beca’s standoffishness, her determination to reach her goal. College is for suckers! She wants to be a DJ, man. After she explains she can never make it to the end of a movie because she gets bored, Jesse shows her The Breakfast Club.
By using the last scene of the movie, Pitch Perfect throws a nod to the preceding teen movies it strives to emulate – but it completely misses the point. Just before Judd Nelson does the world’s most famous fist pump, Anthony Michael Hall narrates, “You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms; in the most convenient definitions. What we found out is that each one of us is a Brain, and an Athlete, and a Basketcase, a Princess, and a Criminal.” Hughes’s message was that there’s more to your average kid than meets the eye; that even kids from opposite social strata struggle with the same problems, heartbreaks, and pressures. In Pitch Perfect, nobody’s more than The Fat One, The Sexy One, The Dumb One, The Alternative One, and The Gay One.
Basically, Pitch Perfect took The Breakfast Club, Bridesmaids, Glee, and Bring It On and squashed them into a messy blob that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Characters, particularly Camp’s Aubrey, add an “aca” prefix to words, much as Bring It On’s cheerleaders said “cheerocracy” and “cheertastic.” Fortunately, the intended audience probably hasn’t seen that one. The lesbian character, sporting Fantasia Barrino hair, is also thrust to the forefront for the occasional laugh – because lesbians always take every opportunity to grope someone’s boob in a rehearsal, right? Sure, it’s great that, since Judd Apatow insisted the food poisoning scene stay in Bridesmaids after Wiig and Mumolo’s initial protests, women can now be gross in comedy. It’s a good thing. But having a character spew a CGI stream of orange liquid, then having the women roll around in it, is not only deliberately derivative, but pointlessly classless.
Rebel Wilson’s character is likewise imitative of Melissa McCarthy’s in Wiig’s 2011 film. Fat Amy, self-appointed such so “twink bitches like you don’t call me it behind my back,” is the butt of every joke, and the audience loves it. The only redeeming factor is that Fat Amy is the butt of her own joke; her confidence and random, hilarious interjections (“I once fought a crocodile and some dingoes simultaneously”) nearly save the character. Wilson’s comedic timing and enthusiasm almost make you feel comfortable laughing at Fat Amy – because you’re sort of laughing with her. Unfortunately, the character still stumbles into the “laugh at the fat chick” jokes a few too many times. Isn’t it funny that her skirt doesn’t fit her the same way as it does the other girls? Isn’t it funny that somebody throws a burrito at her from a moving vehicle? Get it, a burrito for the fat chick? Isn’t it funny she’s surrounded by hot guys? Fat girls don’t have boyfriends! Ha-ha. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least – but the audience in my theater ate it up.
Finally, let’s get to the reason we all went to see it: the singing and dancing. Well, what you need to know about that is that Glee does it better. The choreography, cinematography, and arrangements are fine, but Ryan Murphy’s popular show, though it occasionally traipses into movie-of-the-week territory, sports some truly brilliant stage performances. A few of the scenes in Pitch Perfect invigorate and enervate the plot, but it also falls into one of Glee’s frustrating traps: no a cappella group is going to be, ahem, “pitch perfect” and choreographed masterfully without practicing. Where are the practice montages? They would’ve been a perfect way to get to know our characters better, and for our characters to get to know one another. Missed opportunities abound.
Kendrick, who was wonderful in Up in the Air and has spot-on comedic timing, is underused; a shallow, sullen character isn’t the right role for her. Wilson, whose tiny role in Bridesmaids probably got her here, is a comedic genius, and easily the funniest part of the film – the directors did the right thing by allowing her to improvise throughout, but I wish fewer of the jokes had been about how funny fatness is. Color commentators Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins have a number of funny scenes – but the intended audience probably doesn’t actually know who they are – though when Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz Plasse appears onscreen in a cameo, the whole theater gasped. The movie gets half a star for Wilson, half a star for Banks and Higgins, and half a star for its male lead, Skylar Astin, a cute goofball who has great chemistry with Kendrick (at least until the awkward kiss). Now I’m going to watch Stick It and The Breakfast Club and wash the taste of this drivel out of my mouth.