Pitch Passable: New Musical Comedy Film is Pretty Okay
The dawn of a new national pastime is swiftly approaching, and it knows how to beatbox. Following close on the heels of the vampire craze, a cappella has become the activity so many people watch but only a few weirdos actually do. While most of us commoners spent our high school years openly mocking the losers who actually enjoyed sixth period chorus, our secret, festering envy of these talented folk has finally found a more positive outlet in obsessive fandom. Something about the enthusiasm with which these young, nubile performers execute their jazz squares just gets the blood pumping. They’re eager to please; we’re happy to be entertained.
“Pitch Perfect” tempers this fascination with self-deprecating humor and packages it all into one energetic feel-good flick. Making the jump from Broadway to Hollywood, former “Avenue Q” director Jason Moore has imbued the musical comedy with the fidgety timing and blunt shamelessness of an actual musical. Though it doesn’t break any comedic ground, “Pitch Perfect” is best described as an example of a film that works well within a more conventional structure.
The premise is straightforward: Beca, an introverted aspiring DJ who’d rather move to L.A. than continue her freshman year of Barden College, reluctantly joins an a cappella group at her father’s encouragement. In their fight for redemption from an unsavory vomit incident at last year’s finals, the Barden Bellas are hesitant to update their tired set list. That’s where DJ Beca comes in.
The group captain Aubrey’s excessive phobia of remixes constitutes a simultaneously implausible and uninteresting plot point upon which most of the movie’s action is based. This frustrating mix of trivial and questionable proved to be a running theme throughout the film, characterizing a number of events and characters’ motivations. For example, the Bellas’ irrational feud with the Treblemakers is exaggerated during the first half of the movie but generally disregarded at the end. During a magically harmonious “riff-off” between the groups, characters that were originally portrayed as musically incompetent during their auditions are apparently capable of harmonizing songs they’ve likely never heard before. Viewers would be well advised to leave their disbelief at the door.
The storyline of “Pitch Perfect” is predictable enough that any spoilers I could give away can probably be inferred from its premise. As the Bellas advance through competition rounds and motivational montages, dynamic protagonist Beca’s relationship with her token romantic male lead blossoms, reaches a roadblock over an obviously problematic flaw in her character, and resolves itself through the power of song.
In short, the strength of this movie is not in its plot. A soundtrack of exhilarating vocal madness is a better selling point, as is Kay Cannon’s irreverent, overtly sexual, and at times bizarre script. The former Second City member has a promising background as a writer for NBC’s “30 Rock” and FOX’s “New Girl.” While her silver screen debut shows a disappointing lack of the cultural capital tossed around in these witty sitcoms, Cannon seems to do best when being weird. Certain scenes fall flat when the characters’ college vernacular comes off as contrived, while those that verge on the ridiculous and occasionally grotesque are a joy to uncomfortably behold. A shower scene, an astounding quantity of vomit, and some raunchy choreography add a kick to the film’s appeal. I’ll let the nauseating a cappella puns and a few politically incorrect Asian clichés slide.
“Pitch Perfect” would undoubtedly have been a flop if it didn’t depend on a cast of experienced comedians. Girl-of-the-moment Anna Kendrick once again proves her ability to toe the line between comedy and drama in a way that is never as obnoxious as we expect it to be. Rebel Wilson, in the role of “Fat Amy,” steals yet another show with her soon-to-be iconic deadpan and absolute aversion to inhibitions. The compatible partnership of Cannon’s weirdness and the cast's refusal to take themselves seriously brings kitschy sexiness and incredible awkwardness to new heights.
One comparison is inevitable: “Pitch Perfect” versus “Glee.” Potential viewers should know that while this movie is jam packed with enough spirit to merit the comparison and as much camp, this is not the coming-of-age spectacular you “only watch because it’s on Netflix.” Cannon’s writing implicitly (read: explicitly) denies any relation. Right off the bat, McLovin’ (whose “real name” is apparently Christopher Mintz-Plasse) warns a group of nervous aca-wannabes that they’ve entered the big leagues.
“This isn’t a high school club where you can sing and dance your way through any social issue or confused sexuality,” he says.
“Pitch Perfect” is far from perfect, but if you’re looking for an easily digestible couple hours of fun, it’s certainly adequate.