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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

* * 1/2

Director: Jason Moore
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp

Call me cynical, but I get the sense that Pitch Perfect was assembled by a team of marketing execs determined to manufacture lightning in a bottle. Just mix the female centred comedy of Bridesmaids and the musical stylings of Glee, throw in a dash of 80s nostalgia, a touch of broad, gross-out humor, and spread it over a solid base of tried and true romantic comedy formula, and you've got a movie. And it worked, obviously, judging by the film's box office take, but while the film has its pleasures, it is somewhat lacking in soul.

The premise of Pitch Perfect revolves around college championship A Capella and the battle of two groups from Barden University - the Barden Bellas and the Treblemakers - in pursuit of the international title. Into his battle steps Beca (Anna Kendrick), the daughter of a Barden professor who really just wants to go to Los Angeles and break into the music business but is forced first into the University itself and then into joining an extracurricular activity. She joins the Bellas despite getting off to a rocky start with its leader, Aubrey (Anna Camp), a type A personality still suffering the sting of humiliation from the previous year's competition, when she brought the Bellas season to an end by throwing up all over the stage. The Bellas are rounded out by Aubrey's second in command, Chloe (Brittany Snow), Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean), Staci (Alexis Knapp), Lilly (Hanna Mae Lee), and the only character who truly matters, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), self-named so "twig bitches" can't call her that behind her back.

The Bellas make it as far as the Regional semifinals, where they go up against the Treblemakers, led by the obnoxious Bumper (Adam DeVine), and which includes Jesse (Skylar Astin), who just happens to be Beca's love interest (or, at least, he would like to be). The Bellas come in third, which means they won't go on to the Nationals, and Beca quits the group over a disagreement with Aubrey. Later, however, after the group which won first place at the Regionals is disqualified, the Bellas are back in the game and though Aubrey resists at first, Beca is eventually welcomed back into the group. With Aubrey having loosened her tight grip on the set list, the Bellas begin to expand their musical frame of reference - but will it be too little too late?

Pitch Perfect is often funny, which is one of the film's saving graces. Many of the laughs come courtesy of Wilson, who can make just about any line funny and who I'm sure is going to become a major pop culture force, and Lee, whose character is so soft spoken that no one can hear what she's saying (which does beg the question of how she got into the group in the first place) but who still gets some great non-sequiturs (my favourite being "I ate my twin in the womb"). Anchoring the story amidst their wackiness, Kendrick delivers a solid performance as the straight man character who begins the story as the self-imposed outsider and then slowly realizes that she wants to be an insider. There isn't a ton of depth to the character (or any of the characters) because the film doesn't really allow for it, but Kendrick does manage to bring a little something extra to it which helps keep the non-singing portions of the film afloat.

The main problem with Pitch Perfect is the inelegant manner in which it moves through the narrative formula. It throws at lot at the wall - the romantic subplot involving Beca and Jesse, the family drama between Beca and her father, the rivalry between the A Capella groups, the rivalry between Beca and Aubrey, and the hijinks of the two commentators of the A Capella competitions (played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) - but the things that stick don't necessarily work well together, nor are any of these elements particularly well-developed on their own. The film is more concerned with trying (and it tries very hard) to speak to the zeitgeist than it is with trying to tell a satisfying story and that shows. In the end, while Pitch Perfect does have many enjoyable moments, it's just a bit too empty to really mean anything.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Nice review Norma. It plays around with its premise and idea in a goofy and fun way, but never fully comes around and takes us by surprise. Still, you’ll have a good time regardless