Review: “Pitch Perfect”
Produced by: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman
Written by: Kay Cannon (screenplay)
Edited by: Zach Chemberlene
Cinematography by: Julio Macat
Music by: Christophe Beck, Mark Kilian
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Utkarsh Ambudkar, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks
Based on the novel Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin
Even though this movie is irritatingly responsible for bringing the Ace of Base song “The Sign” into my mind and never letting it get back out, I was surprised when I rented the movie on a whim earlier this year and found something I didn’t totally expect: a movie that I actually enjoyed quite a bit. I mean, I had seen the reviews for it were generally positive, which was a big factor in my curiosity, but I was still skeptical that this movie, which was so obviously, clearly trying to coast on the popularity of Glee in my eyes, was actually worth watching. It’s nice sometimes to be reminded that I can be wrong, however.
Pitch Perfect kind of plays like a movie version of what the glee club could be like on an episode of Community where the characters make all nice with them, for once, after the whole fiasco of that one Christmas episode was fixed after the crazy teacher left (the brainwashing fiasco and crazy teacher within the story of the third season’s excellent Christmas episode, not the fiasco that was the fourth season Christmas episode with the crazy teacher that tried to brainwash us into thinking it was a worthy follow up, just to clarify). It’s got that mean sort of edge to it that knows that it’s pretty silly material, and it doesn’t care what the hell you think. It’s going to do it anyway, but while still embracing that inherent sweetness in the premise, ‘cause that’s how it rolls. (I’m no good at sounding tough…)
The movie centers around your standard romantic leads, with Anna Kendrick playing Beca, an “alt-girl with her mad-lib beats” who dreams of going to Hollywood to make it as a music producer. Beca creates remixes and mashups in her spare time, never really socializing with others. Her father, a professor at the college she’s been lovingly forced to attend, encourages her to take the year to get into the college spirit, socialize, and get into some new activities, and if she’s still dreaming of going to Hollywood, only then will he pay her way there.
Determined to make it look like she’s doing her part on the offer, Beca wanders around the activities fair, discovering that a cappella singing groups, for some reason, are really popular at this school – they have no fewer than four well known groups recruiting their cause, including the “bad boys of a cappella,” The Treblemakers, and their rivals by default, The Bellas, who have suffered a recent setback thanks to one of their lead singers’ sudden projectile vomiting on stage at regionals. Beca clashes with the head diva and rejects their offer to have her try out, but it’s not long before one of the nicer Bellas, Chloe, discovering that Beca has a solid voice and convinces her to try out.
Beca passes the test with her unusual approach to the audition, but troubles arise once again when personalities within the new lineup begin to clash and threaten to ruin their chances at this years’ regionals and dismantle the group as an institution at the school once and for all – not to mention the strict rule about the Treblemaker guys being off limits, which means that Beca’s budding romance with nice guy Jesse is in danger of being nipped, too.
This could have easily been really sweet and mundane material if not for that self-awareness and sharp-edged humor that the filmmakers wisely used to deflate artificial gleefulness associated with glee clubs. That, too, isn’t the most original approach these days, of course, but what’s there is still entertaining and often very funny.
You can’t help but enjoy a movie that features a character like the built-in scene-stealer Fat Amy, who introduces herself as such “so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” The banter between the two a cappella commentators, played by John Michael Higgins and producer Elizabeth Banks, is also pretty hilarious and reminiscent of some of the best material between the antagonistic reporters on Family Guy, Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons. Even the romance is something to root for in this movie, with Kendrick and Skyler Astin making Beca and Jesse an admittedly cute couple that you want to root for. I do question just what convinced the Bellas to let that quiet sociopath into the group, however – her ultimate worth to them is revealed in the end, but up until that point, it’s really not clear why this whispering weirdo is admitted in the first place. Oh well, though, don’t dwell on the logic too much.
The musical performances are entertaining, too, and, despite how irritating it was to hear constantly, it makes good use of several familiar pop songs from across the last four decades in its musical numbers without fully transforming into a traditional musical – you’re never going to hear the songs performed spontaneously to express the characters’ feelings and move the plot along (well… except for one cathartic moment somewhere in the middle, but it’s not a big musical number or anything). I’m not even a fan of most of the actual songs used in the film, and I still found it entertaining enough, thanks to the people performing them and the overall likeability of the movie. It’s conceivable that some of these actors may actually feature in a musical film at some point in their careers.
Pitch Perfect is ultimately fluffy, sweet entertainment with a few nuts thrown in to make it interesting, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, either. The filmmakers took lots of elements and assembled them into a movie that I admittedly never would have pursued had it not been for the positive reception it received, and I feel perfectly fine in admitting again that I’m happy to have had my skepticism torn away from me long enough for me to enjoy a film that I didn’t expect to!
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5