For a while now, it’s felt as though the world is going Glee. There’s no celebration or personal tragedy that cannot be expressed perfectly in song, and while we’re singing, we might as well dance too. There’s nothing wrong with that – as a music lover, I’m always up for a moment that can be properly expressed with song. The trick though, is what happens when the music stops and we’re forced to use our words. That’s what ultimately makes the difference in how much weight our stories will carry.
PITCH PERFECT is the story of Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick). Beca dreams of being a DJ, and will often be seen noodling around with mixes and tracks on her laptop during any spare moment. We meet her on freshman orientation day at Barden College, a place she clearly doesn’t want to be. She’s attending because her father is a professor and has scored her a free ride. After one month of no effort on the part of Beca, her father makes her a deal: If she puts in an honest effort and still finds that she isn’t fitting in as a college student, then he will allow her to chase her professional dreams after her freshman year.
It’s around this time that Beca is heard singing in the shower. She is approached by a fellow student named Chloe (Brittany Snow) to join the The Bellas – Barden’s all-female acapella group who made it to the national finals the previous year. Beca takes her up on the offer and nails her audition. She becomes part of the nine-girl group, all but two of which are new members. They are something of a motley crew, consisting of a nymphomaniac, a brazen Australian smartass, a girl who barely speaks above a whisper, a semi-closeted lesbian, and two more who we’re never fully introduced to.
Together the girls chase the goal of returning to nationals and defeating their campus rivals, the all-boy acapella group known as The Treble Makers – a group that just so happens to include Becca’s only other friend on campus, Jesse (Skylar Astin). Can The Bellas get in shape to proceed through the tournament? Can Becca and Jesse be friends…or even more than friends…while competeing for rival groups? And does this film have anything to say that we can’t see coming twenty miles up the road?
PITCH PERFECT is mostly harmless, and if it seems like a movie you’d enjoy, you probably will. For me though, the film is a near miss. What’s interesting is that its biggest flaw is an unforced error – something that goes beyond its predictable story and shoddy character development. It’s something the movie didn’t need to do, and probably shouldn’t have done, but did anyway and suffers mightily for it. The problem is this: If you’re going to dedicate several moments of the plot reminding people of the great teen films from the last generation, you had better be prepared to match those films – if not exceed them. If you can’t, you’re just reminding us how amazing those films are, and how amazing your film is not.
In this case, the film in question is THE BREAKFAST CLUB. This movie has nothing in common with that movie, nor does it try to have anything in common with it. However, it makes it a major discussion point between Beca and Jesse. Between the two characters we see it getting watched twice, and it gets referenced in the film’s finale in a way I don’t want to spoil. The problem is that as a teen movie, THE BREAKFAST CLUB runs circles around PITCH PERFECT, developing all of its characters in ways that this movie can’t dream of. Interestingly, this is the second film I’ve seen this year to make heavy BREAKFAST CLUB references (guess we’ve reached that point in pop culture), but the other one did so far more skillfully…thus proving it can be done.
PITCH PERFECT does have its upsides though. The music direction of the film is stellar, and the arrangement of all the songs will leave many grinning, nostalgic, and wanting to download some tunes the moment they get back home. Of the cast, Rebel Wilson is the standout. She has a sense of humour about her that see-saws between dry and outrageous, and she always seems to know which situation calls for which side. She has a curious confidence about her which makes her feel like the most fully formed character in the story (though still not quite). She has wonderful stage presence and perfect comedic timing, and as the film played out, I found myself wanting to watch more of her and less of Anna Kendrick.
Speaking of Anna Kendrick, that brings me back to what I didn’t like about the film. When Beca shows up on campus, we’re supposed to buy her as a brooding loner who is far more interested in making her bones in the music industry than she is in going to college. The problem is that I didn’t buy it. Since PITCH PERFECT is so intent on referencing 80′s films, I’ll go back to that well. You remember the moment in all of those old teen movies, where we meet the “nerdy girl” and she’s clearly a pretty girl in glasses, a ponytail and overalls? That’s what PITCH PERFECT tries to do with Anna Kendrick. It darkens her eyeliner and gives her some edgy piercings and wants us to believe that she’s some sort of lone wolf. It doesn’t work that way. Anna Kendrick is a great actress, and once her character stops trying to be a snarling me-party, she shines in the role. It’s a pity that the film wastes an entire act on this silliness.
By picking flaws in PITCH PERFECT, I feel like I’m kicking a bunny. I don’t mean to, and again, I repeat that if this seems like your sort of movie, you’ll probably enjoy it. I, on the other hand, just wanted a little more. One less cliché, or one more bit of character development, and I’d be sated. I laughed a few times, so the film isn’t a complete mess…it’s just messy.