– Summary –
Director : Jason Moore
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Easter Dean, Adam DeVine, Ben Platt, Alexix Knapp, Freddie Stroma, John Benjamin Hickey, Chritsopher Mintz-Plasse, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks.
Approx Running Time : 112 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of college girls forms an a capella group and struggle with their journey towards competition finals.
What we think : Unassuming musical-comedy delivers requisite laughs, plenty of toe-tapping songs and pop-culture savvy comedy, all wrapped in a gloriously “Hollywood” package. Characters feel scripted towards an inch of their lives, the musical numbers sometimes don’t quite pop like they should, and the array of extra second and third tier cast members sometimes get in each others’ way, but Pitch Perfect will delight plenty with its enthusiasm. Flawed, certainly, but likeable? Definitely.
Bring It On for the Glee crowd.
Sometimes, I really like watching movies. Pitch Perfect, a film I had no business wanting to watch but ended up having to do so anyway, was a pleasant surprise to stumble upon. While I’d never say I’m in the films’ key demographic, nor would it have occurred to me to give this one a shot, I found myself enjoying it in spite of several key failings the movie had. Granted, I’m a fan of the old-school musical film, even if the genre has become something of a cliche to itself in recent years – teen-flicks like the Step Up franchise, the ubiquitous Glee on television, and compromised talent shows like Idol, X Factor and [Insert Region Here]’s Got Talent have all saturated the market with clean-cut, dazzle-smiled teens all looking to become the next Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson. To find a film like Pitch Perfect, a film with so many genre cliches and see-it-coming-from-space narrative plot points you could barely call it an “original” film, as enjoyable to watch as it was, speaks volumes about canny casting, rock-solid direction and taking a razor-blade to the script.
Jason Moore’s film about a group of disparate college women teaming up to battle it out as a competitive a capella group might strike a casual observer as yet another trite, cheesy coming-of-age tween film about empowerment, friendship and the kind of Disney-fied outlook on life that rankles most free-thinking adults. It is exactly that kind of film, and yet, is still entertaining. Perhaps key to the enjoyment of the film is the casting: Anna Kendrick, whom I’d not picked as a musical actress, brings a kind of layered seriousness to the role of the outsider with talent to burn, if only people would listen. It’s an archetypal role, and while the script does nothing to create any sense of freshness to the part of Beca, Kendrick is a competent enough actress to just make it work. Anna Camp, as the screechy leader of the Barden Belles, Aubrey, is given the backhanded slap in this film: her character starts off as comically tragic (she pukes mid-performance during the final of a competition a year earlier) before becoming the controlling, unheeding bitch most of these films need in order to provide a catalyst for change. Camp is better than this film, for sure, but her performance here teeters more towards melodrama than the realism established in the film’s opening act.
Brittany Snow, as Chloe, seems to be an homage (or rip-off) of Glee’s also-red-haired beauty, Jayma Mays, although Snow’s performance here is the antithesis of May’s OCD-inflicted teacher. Skylar Astin leads the male cast as Beca’s main love interest (alongside college-radio station manager Freddie Stroma) who seems to wear his heart on his sleeve; Astin’s a solid actor and does a good job, but the part is underwritten and the connection with Kendricks doesn’t quite feel natural. Adam DaVine is fitfully amusing as the leader of the Barden Belles’ chief rivals, the Treblemakers, and for most of the film comes across as a Jack Black clone, with his gibbering and ludicrous behavior. And whoever thought it necessary to insert Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as “expert commentators” throughout the film need slapping – their misogynistic, innuendo-laden creepiness jars against the fresh, breezy remainder of the film. Most of it is self-serving “comedy” that just comes off as unneeded bitchiness: I guess the film needed the equivalent of Statler and Waldorf up in the gallery to poke fun at a concept which the film spends a fair amount of time trying to legitimize. Banks should have just stuck to being a producer on this thing. Meanwhile, the gaggle of fellow younger cast members seem to span the cultural, ethnic and weird boundaries most colleges now endure – the Japanese girl who is barely audible when she speaks, the butch black lesbian, the google-eyed wallflower, the super-hot-and-I-know-it sexpot, as well as a bunch of others, make up the Barden Belles’ numbers – yet it is an Aussie comedienne who steals the show away from nearly everyone else.
Rebel Wilson’s star is certainly rising in Hollywood. Pitch Perfect does nothing but make people sit up and take notice of her once again: her deadpan comedic delivery, her black, wry sense of humor, and weird ability to come off as both exceptionally smart and bemusingly idiotic have made audiences around the world fall in love with her (she’s been on telly in Australia for a while now, so we’ve known about it all along) and it’s this goofy screen presence that is most noticeable here. Kendrick, Skylar and Camp all have that “actor” sensibility, whereas Wilson’s dead-on comic timing and lack of self awareness at being seen to be idiotic feels more…. fluid, if I can use the term. She’s more natural than the rest of the folks all trying to perform, and this gives her character more grace and flexibility than the relatively weak script would normally allow. Wilson is – while not top-billed – easily the best part of the whole film as far as characters and performances go.
The film’s copious musical numbers are superbly essayed by whomever actually sings them. Whether it’s the on-screen cast or a bunch of vocal ring-in’s I’m not certain, but Pitch Perfect’s soundtrack is a catchy, foot tapping, rockin’ good time – even if the majority of it is all a capella. Perhaps the only other time I can remember being so entertained by the concept of a capella was that episode of The Simpsons where Homer joins The B-Sharps. Classic ballads, modern contemporary pop songs, even some not-so-contemporary ones, are all given solid a capella treatment by the film, and while it takes some time to get past the initial doo-wop cheesiness of it, the class and dexterity of the vocals is such that you a slowly drawn into this world and is politics. Up loud and on a big screen, Pitch Perfect works a real treat for the ears.
Matching the vocals and the terrific performances is the direction from Jason Moore. His debut feature film (Moore has directed for television before) is wonderfully kitsch (it even references John Hughes’ seminal classic, The Breakfast Club, a film the target demographic for this film will most likely have never seen), effervescent and cheery to the point of Gleegasm. The serious beats the story arcs through aren’t world-shattering (typically romantic fluff designed to propel Beca’s story through the ups and downs of college life) and the lack of consequence to a lot of what happens is pure cinematic Hollywood. Through it all, though, is a sense of happiness and zany, teen-centric pop-culture savvy humor, the kind brought up in films like Bring It On (from which Pitch Perfect draws a lot of obvious comparisons, largely through its portrayal of inter-collegiate competition), She’s All That and any number of modern teen comedies where the focus is on intellectual humor rather than fart jokes. There’s some ribald stuff in Pitch Perfect (Aubrey has a nasty habit of projectile-vomiting during performances) but it’s not enough to put people off.
Pitch Perfect’s lack of character depth or original storyline is probably its largest failing, although through sheer energy and zest most audiences will probably overlook it. The script takes liberties with character arcs that bugged me (Aubrey’s move from sympathetic-yet-driven Belle’s leader to shrill, incoherent she-bitch threw me) and tacit acknowledgement to Beca’s family is given in a single scene (her father is separated from Beca’s mother, has shacked up with another woman, and this has led to Beca becoming the sullen and withdrawn creature she is today!) in the kind of cinematic shorthand that smacks of lazy writing. However, working in the films’ favor is the fact that these deficits are overshadowed by the thumping musical soundtrack, so I guess if the tradeoff for lack of character development is more singing battles, then consider me sold.
Pitch Perfect might not be everyone’s cup of tea, cinematically speaking. It’s a singing, dancing, finding-yourself flick which hinges largely on a sense of sentimentality to films of this genre, more than anything the film itself achieves. The laughs are genuinely funny most of the time, and even when they’re not, it doesn’t matter. The songs and performances all reek of “let’s make this a showstopper” production value, and the film’s bouncy nature prevents any serious thought from taking place with any solidity. Yes, there’s a sense of “been there, done that” with Pitch Perfect, although even taking into account the flaws one might find, it’s still an entertaining, enjoyable musical funpack to watch, absorb, and then forget.