Pitch Perfect (2012) / Comedy-Musical
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Ben Platt, Adam DeVine, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Jinhee Joung, Freddie Stroma, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Small Role: Donald Faison, Jason Jones, Joe Lo Truglio
Director: Jason Moore
Screenplay: Kay Cannon (based on the book by Mickey Rapkin)
Review published May 24, 2015
Jason Moore, TV vet and director for the acclaimed Broadway show, "Avenue Q", directs a feature film for the first time in this music-based camp comedy that will no doubt remind many of the hit TV show, "Glee", in both subject matter and snarky attitude. Ostensibly aimed at teens, it's mostly sitcom antics, with one-note characters, but colorful enough to please those who like TV-type fare.
Anna Kendrick (End of Watch, What to Expect When You're Expecting) plays Beca, a reluctant new student and wanna-be mash-up DJ at Barden University, where her doting father is a professor. She appeases him by trying to fit in, and soon joins an all-girl a capella group on campus called the Bellas, who sing only songs done by female artists from the 20th Century. These limitations, and nervous stage antics (including projectile vomiting) from their leader Aubrey, lead the group to perpetual runner-up position to the more charismatic and free-flowing all-male group on campus, the Treblemakers. Beca wants a change, but doesn't have much of a say, and complicates matters herself when she engages in a flirtatious friendship with one of the Treblemakers, Jesse.
Scripted by Kay Cannon, who also wrote for TV's "30 Rock", this one follows the underdog formula to a tee, so very little comes in the way of surprises from the plot itself. This is definitely a more bells-and-whistles experience, where stereotypes are employed to give us easy access to the characters in an instant, while Cannon playfully has mocking fun with them for a few choice gags. And each character has one personality trait that defines him/her -- it's like the Police Academy of musical competition flicks, complete with a painfully shy character who barely speaks above a whisper.
Though the story is formula, the humor is not. I can honestly state that there are moments in here that I've never seen in any film before -- gags involving saucer-like areolas, snow angels in vomit -- it's tasteless, but clever in a way where it could win you over once it gets you laughing. Not all of it makes sense, and some of it is a bit frustrating from a narrative perspective. For instance, the Bellas spend a great deal of time rehearsing only to show that they're clearly not ready for prime time, and yet throughout the movie, they can immediately sing impromptu renditions of songs they've never rehearsed perfectly. They also are obviously studio recorded to boot.
Then there is the team of commentators, played by John Michael Higgins (Bad Teacher) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), who are covering play-by-play antics of the competitions, but there's no explanation of who they are broadcasting to and what audience is out there for a small, regional college town. We don't even know if they're broadcasting to TV, radio, podcast, or are just nerdy super-fans pretending to be commentators. And then there is the fudging with the most essential nature of the performances themselves -- the a capella -- as there are drums and other minor instruments heard in key moments, especially during the showdown climax. And what kind of college is this where students never go to class or even refer to having other work to do and can't make a rehearsal? Is this an a capella college? Yikes. If you can't stick to your own basic premise, no matter how flimsy, it's a lesson in frustration for anyone bothering to watch this film for its story when you're always pulled out of it for another example of, "Hey, it's a dumb movie, so nobody will care."
The cast is certainly likeable, and they have nice chemistry together, but not much is asked upon them from an acting standpoint. Triple threat Anna Kendrick impresses the most, but Rebel Wilson (Night at the Museum 3, Bridesmaids) mostly steals the show as Fat Amy, which will cement her status as the comic relief player in films for many years to come. The male counterparts are largely more unimportant and forgettable, and anybody over the age of 30 in the film is rare and fairly superfluous, not counting surprisingly long-in-the-tooth Wilson herself.
But, such things are likely not to dissuade those who love the aesthetic pop appeal of the movie from having a good time, especially with all of the catchy music and singing performances on display throughout the film. It really can be infectious, and likely will make people want to sing along with with the actresses on the screen. It's an entertaining diversion, but it is also wafer-thin and disposable. If you're a fan of irreverent sarcasm and shameless feel-good machinations, you'll likely love it; if you find that unbearable, this may prove a toxic overload. As for me, it's a mess from a story angle, but I do believe that entertainment is salvaged from the wreckage through its own self-mockery, fully aware that it's a Glee-fully silly, affectionately mindless movie all along.
©2015 Vince Leo