Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pitch Perfect

Directed by Jason Moore.

2012. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes.

Skylar Astin
Anna Camp
Ben Platt
Adam DeVine
Freddie Stroma
Hana Mae Lee
Alexis Knapp
Ester Dean
John Benjamin Hickey

The Barden Bellas are an all-female competitive acapella group who’ve literally puked away their chances at winning a national championship. When the next school year starts up, the only two returning members are the iron-fisted Aubrey (Camp), who did the puking, and Chloe (Snow) her BFF and kinda, sorta co-leader. They need to recruit a whole new team but are having trouble finding people willing to join. It doesn’t help that the actual champions are the Treblemakers, an all-male group who also attend Barden University. Much to Aubrey’s chagrin, she and Chloe gather a group of misfits from all ethnicities and orientations they have to whip into shape. Among them is Beca (Kendrick), a reluctant college student. She wants to be a DJ, but her dad teaches at the school and is pretty much making her go. Of course, if you’ve only seen the trailers for Pitch Perfect then you know another of the new girls is Fat Amy (Wilson), a rambunctious soul from Tasmania. Lots of singing ensues.

Singing is what the movie does best. A seemingly endless succession of already catchy pop tunes from the 80s forward are given fun re-workings. I’m not sure how many of these would-be idols would make it to Hollywood, but they’re having a grand time with some fun songs. We have little choice but to do the same. It’s rather easy to get caught up in tapping your feet and singing along.

What it also does well is be silly. Here is where Fat Amy comes in. A sizable share of the movie’s funniest moments are hers. Her timing is rock solid and she has charisma to spare. It might be the best comedic performance of the last few years including 2011’s Oscar nominated turn by Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, a movie Wilson also has a role in. Most of the other funny moments are handled by Adam DeVine as Bumper, the leader of the Treblemakers. If there is one drawback to this pair is that what’s hinted at is never really explored as Bumper rather abruptly disappears from the proceedings. It’s too bad because that may have led to even more hijinks and shenanigans. Whatever funnies those two are not responsible for usually come from Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as competition commentators.

When other characters try to get in on the laughs, things don’t go so well. The main problem is that the rest of the Bellas are all one dimensional stereotypes. Whatever aspect of themselves we’re first shown of most of the ladies is all there is to them and they act only on those surface traits. For instance, the Japanese girl is a weird mix of traditionally docile housewife and a character from a twisted Asian horror flick, the black lesbian is constantly trying to grope one of the other Bellas and is relentlessly ghetto-butch, the promiscuous girl only expresses herself in overtly (hetero)sexual terms constantly groping herself, and so on.

Another place Pitch Perfect hits sour notes is during time spent on plot development. Whenever our principles aren’t harmonizing and/or going for laughs, the movie just works down the checklist of both rom-com and sports movie clichés (predictable break-up and training montages, for instance). From a character standpoint, Beca is the movie’s focal point. Her daddy issues (I don’t remember ever hearing about mom), musical prowess, battles with Aubrey and budding romance with Jesse (Astin) are all front and center without a surprise anywhere. To be honest, that isn’t even the real issue, though. The problem is how bland our heroine is. The others talk about her like she’s some way out there alt-girl or some kind of rebel threatening the establishment. Having her played by the fresh-faced but not particularly intriguing Anna Kendrick works against those ideas and we never feel Beca will do anything other than what she eventually does. It feels like she’s been modeled after pop star Avril Lavigne, or possibly Pink, but without the edge of either.

Truth told, even with the paint-by-numbers storytelling and the horrible stereotypes Pitch Perfect is a fun flick. It’s strengths provide enough cover for the flaws to keep us patiently waiting on the next musical set. To be on the safe side, we get them everywhere: on the bus, in the shower, at impromptu competitions on campus and, of course, on the stage. This and the wonderful performance of Rebel Wilson keeps us in a good mood most of the way through.

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