Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

Thanks to the success of TV shows like Glee and The Sing-Off, the world of competitive a capella singing and choir has gotten a lot of media attention lately.  I was a choir nerd for most of high school and college, so I’m always intrigued by these shows…I watched Glee for the first few seasons (before it became absolutely absurd) and have watched a handful of episodes of The Sing-Off, as well.  So I was obviously excited when I heard Pitch Perfect, a movie about a collegiate-level singing competition, was being made.

Released in 2012, Pitch Perfect follows college freshman Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) as she begins her first year at Barden University.  Beca’s an aspiring music producer, and spends most of her free time creating mixes of songs on her computer. She’d rather be in LA kick-starting her music career, but Beca’s father (John Benjamin Hickey) is a professor at Barden, and would prefer her to try out collegiate life.  So he offers her a deal- if Beca gives college a fair shot by joining a club and still doesn’t enjoy attending college after a year, he’ll pay her way to Los Angeles.

Enter the Barden Bellas.  The Bellas are the university’s female a capella team and have been trying to win the regional singing competition against the school’s all-male a capella team, The Treblemakers, for years.  The girls came close to snagging the win a year prior, but due to lead singer Aubrey (Anna Camp) having an unfortunate problem on-stage (a grotesque projectile vomiting episode), the girls lost the title.  For the chance of a fresh start, the team is hoping to recruit new members, and co-leader Chloe (Brittany Snow) has her eyes and ears set on Beca, after she overhears her singing in the shower.  Chloe eventually convinces a reluctant Beca to join the team, whom mostly acquiesces because of the pact she’s made with her father.

The other new members include the boisterous Australian transfer student, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), a stereotypical “butch lesbian” with a powerful voice, Cythina-Rose (Ester Dean), a ridiculously shy Asian girl, Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and the sexually obsessed Stacie (Alexis Knapp).  Beca’s surprised to find out that she genuinely enjoys singing with the group, but quickly discovers that their tired routine of performing 90’s pop songs (like the terribly overplayed Ace of Base hit, “The Sign”) won’t be winning them any competitions.  Beca soon makes it her personal goal to override Aubrey’s controlling hold of the group and find a fresh and original set list that will lead them to championships and earn them the trophy over the Treblemakers once and for all.

I found the movie’s plot to be entertaining, though I can’t say that Kay Cannon’s (who also worked as a scriptwriter for TV shows 30 Rock and New Girl) script is very original.  I’ve seen the same plot of two competing choirs on every season of Glee, and chances are, the majority of people watching Pitch Perfect have seen the same plot before too, so it’s nothing new, really.  Still, that doesn’t stop the movie from being generally entertaining, particularly the musical numbers.  I’m definitely planning to buy the soundtrack soon; I thoroughly enjoyed the numbers from the Treblemakers (the guys do a nice rendition of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”) and I loved the songs used in the “riff-off” medley.  Everyone in the cast (save Wilson, but more on that later) has an amazing voice, and the musical direction from Christophe Beck and Mark Killian is superb.

However, one part of the film that I found disappointing was the humour.   I was a bit surprised, considering that director Jason Moore is the director of one of my favourite musicals, the hilariously amusing Avenue Q.  Also, the film’s executive producer is Elizabeth Banks, whom has acted in a plethora of comedic roles (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Zack and Miri Make A Porno, Our Idiot Brother) and I honestly expected the combination of comedic genius between the two of them to create an uproariously funny film.   At most, there are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments (and honestly, the only times I truly laughed were during some of the awkward, yet hilarious, whispered one-liners from Lilly), but I spent the majority of the film chuckling lightly, at best.  For a film that’s supposed to be a mocking parody, the humour was surprisingly absent and stale, relying on gag jokes and gross-out humour (seriously, the vomiting- which happened twice- was just stupid).  The worst part of the film’s “humour” however, was the character of Fat Amy.  I was seriously disappointed in the characterisation of Amy, which was basically just a stereotype of the “gross fat girl” that the audience is supposed to laugh at and make fun of throughout the entire movie.  I was very offended and disgusted by the way the character was written (with no other personality traits, really, other than being the easy-to-make-fun-of fat girl), and it’s just sad to realize that it’s still readily acceptable in society to make fun of someone’s outward appearance.

Furthermore, I’m disappointed by Rebel Wilson’s choice to play such a role, as I think she’s such a capable actress and genuinely funny on her own, without just being the butt of repeated fat jokes.  She’s already played similar roles in the other movies we’ve seen her in (first in a minor role in Bridesmaids, and then again in the heartlessly cruel “comedy”, Bachelorette), and I’d love to see her act in a comedy where we’re actually laughing as a result of her humour, rather than just laughing at her.

The acting isn’t that great, in general.  It took a long time for me to warm up to Anna Kendrick (Twilight, 50/50) in the lead role- though the character of Beca is written to be sulky, Kendrick does nothing to make this come through in a sympathetic way.  Mostly, Kendrick’s brooding, unlikeable performance unfavourably reminded me of her Twilight co-star, Kristin Stewart, and even though she finally adds some charm to the role towards the end, I’ve definitely seen Kendrick give better performances in other films.  Anna Camp (The Help, True Blood, The Good Wife) is good at being bad, while Brittany Snow (American Dreams) is adorable to watch as her “good girl” opposite.   Wilson’s aforementioned role is decent; she does have a few genuinely funny lines, but most of that is lost amongst the overall discomfort I felt whenever her character was on screen (I mean, there’s a scene of a bean burrito being thrown at her from a car window…how low can it get?!).  Also, Wilson has the worst voice in the film, so her few solos were cringe-worthy, and I honestly wish they had scrapped the character altogether.   I did enjoy Ester Dean’s voice, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for her upcoming debut album.  She also does a great job acting as Cynthia-Rose; at least, the stereotypical Lesbian role had its’ funny moments without being incredibly offensive.

I actually enjoyed the men in the film more than the female actresses.  Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening) is extremely endearing as the nerdy, but sweet, movie buff and Beca’s eventual love interest, Jesse.  Jesse’s roommate, Benji, is played by newcomer Ben Platt, whom is even nerdier than Jesse (his hobbies include magic tricks and he has a Star Wars shrine in his dorm) – but just as adorable. Meanwhile, you can’t help loving-to-hate the pompous lead singer of The Treblemakers, Bumper (Adam Devine), as he throws out plenty of clever insults.  The movie also held several fun cameos, including Banks and John Michael Higgins (The Late Shift, Happily Divorced) as the sarcastic commentators for the regional competition.

Perhaps in different hands, Pitch Perfect could’ve been a better movie.   I would’ve liked it more if it had more actual jokes, rather than relying on the cheap humor that it does, and the film definitely would’ve benefited from a more sympathetic lead role.  At least the musical numbers and supporting male actors make up for the film’s failures, but if you’re looking for a funny/satirical view of the world of a capella choir competitions, just watch the first season of Glee instead.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F03N-ApQdmw]
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