Sunday, February 3, 2013

Obviously Capitalizing On The Popularity Of Glee, Pitch Perfect Is Only Average.

The Good: Fun music, Generally decent acting, Moments that are very funny
The Bad: Predictable plot, Rushed character relationships, A wholly unlikable protagonist
The Basics: Capitalizing on the current a capella fad, Pitch Perfect presents one terrible young woman’s journey through her freshman year of college with the help of the a capella group she joins.

This last year has been one of change for me; I moved five hundred fifty miles away from everything and everyone I ever knew to set up house with my wife, changed jobs (yet again), and actually got attached to the Siberian Husky my wife got. In the process of moving, I find myself farther away from movie theaters and with only four television stations on my television. While I will drive quite a distance for time at a movie theater, I won’t pay for cable television, so I take what comes over the air. That means that right now, I don’t get FOX. I mention this because it means I no longer get to watch Glee (Season 3 is reviewed here!). The thing is, given how the third season ended and the departure of the only characters I was really invested in, I realized that I don’t miss the show. I don’t miss Glee at all. The thing is, I really enjoyed Glee when it began. I mention this at the outset of my review of Pitch Perfect because I find I have quite the contrary opinion to most reviewers on the subject of this film.

I was not impressed.

To be fair, I enjoyed most of Pitch Perfect and for a film I went into worried that it had been spoiled by the insane number of preview trailers I saw for it, I was delighted by all the material not teased in the trailers (most notably the presence of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks in the film). But Pitch Perfect is far from perfect and it is not even particularly good; it rises to average, despite having some interesting moments.

Pitch Perfect focuses on Beca, a college freshman who is annoyingly sullen and, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, she is not looking to make attachments. Interested solely in becoming a DJ to produce remixes and mash-ups of other people’s works, she is forced to go to college by her father, a professor. While the guy down the hall, Jesse, expresses an interest in befriending her and sharing their common love of music, Beca remains cold to him. While Jesse looks to become a member of the reigning a capella champion group the Treblemakers, Beca wants nothing to do with Aubrey, Chloe, or the all-female a capella group the Barden Bellas.

But when her father challenges her to become involved and invested for one year, Beca joins the Bellas. She quickly comes into conflict with Aubrey, a Senior and the leader of the Bellas who keeps the group stable and unchanging in their routines. Through the various competitions, Beca becomes more invested in the Bellas, her philosophy and style for participating in the group is proven to be a winning strategy, and she and Jesse slowly get closer.

Pitch Perfect is based upon a novel which, admittedly, I have not read. As a result, this review is solely of what is actually in the film. The fundamental problems with the film are that it tries to squeeze too much into too short a time (doing huge disservices to multiple characters) and the primary protagonist is thoroughly unlikable without being in any way distinguished or remarkable.

The first problem seems more pronounced than the usual attempt to translate a novel to the screen. In getting Pitch Perfect down to a theater-friendly 112 minutes, the film sacrifices most of the genuine moments for fidelity to the musical numbers. Very few of the songs are truncated, but what is cut out are massive bits of material between the musical numbers. Jesse and Beca have one of the most forced cinematic relationships in the history of modern cinema because in Pitch Perfect, they see one another (in a way that is very unappealing to Beca), meet (do not hit it off), go to work in proximity (though not really – in the movie we often see them at opposite ends of the radio station as they file c.d.s), he inserts himself into her life, she constantly rejects him, then she suddenly, miraculously cares about the things that are actually important to him. On the plot and character front, Pitch Perfect has a lot more in common with Step-Up 3 (reviewed here!) than it does with Glee; the characters are that flat, their connections are that tenuous, and the musical numbers take priority in the same way that the dance numbers rule the Step-Up films.

The first problem might not be so bad were it not for how unlikable Beca is. I like characters who start as unlikable, but grow. One of my favorite shows of all time, Sports Night (reviewed here!), begins with Casey McCall acting like an ass to his co-workers because he has emotionally shut down as a result of his marital estrangement and impending divorce. But even in that first half hour, there is enough cause and there are enough layers presented to the character to get one invested in him and care about his struggle. Not so with Beca. She instantly comes across as mean (“I wanted to be able to say ‘step monster’”), spoiled (she has an incredible amount of hardware for her audiophilia, yet is only seen working as an unpaid intern), and utterly bratty (college is being paid for for her, but she is a jerk to everyone around her). Sure, there is some backstory; her parents got divorced and she is sour about that. That is no longer an uncommon thing and is hardly a compelling bit of characterization to allow her to be such a jerk to everyone she meets. Part of what Pitch Perfect lacks is the sense that Beca ever connected with anyone in her life; she is never seen calling or e-mailing old friends, she only makes a vague reference to not having a lot of girlfriends in the past, but she is presented in a way that her lack of a past is noticeable. She is so unlikable that it seems unfathomable anyone would have ever liked her before the movie, like she was just dropped onto Earth and is still figuring out how to relate to people, as opposed to being the highly educated, presumably well-schooled, daughter of a college professor.

Beca is one of the least interesting roles Anna Kendrick has taken since her meteoric rise to prominence thanks, in no small part to The Twilight Saga. I quickly found that, despite knowing how this formulaically-plotted film would develop, I had absolutely no investment in her character of Beca. The most interesting thing Kendrick does is a remarkably impressive musical trick with a cup for Beca’s audition and it is pretty incredible. Kendrick is supported by Rebel Wilson in a role that seems incredibly familiar and well within her established range. Anna Camp stretches out in a completely different direction from her role in The Help, but her stint as Aubrey is as unfortunately predictable as Beca’s character arc. John Michael Higgins might essentially be doing what Fred Willard did in Best In Show (reviewed here!), but he and Elizabeth Banks steal every scene they are in with many of the film’s funniest lines.

The rest of the characters are pretty much filler and the performers do what they can to make the most of their limited airtime. Pitch Perfect is brimming with potential, but like the Bellas final musical number – which showcases a great number of styles and had some flair – it is more a mess than anything truly worth rushing out to see.

For other works with Rebel Wilson, please visit my reviews of:
What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Ghost Rider


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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