Mark Reviews Movies

Pitch Perfect


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jason Moore

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Ben Platt, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Benjamin Hickey

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, language and drug references)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 9/28/12 (limited); 10/5/12 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | September 27, 2012

It is a terrible sign for a movie intending to endear us to a group when the main character's departure from said group fills us with relief. When the leaders of a college a cappella group first approach Beca (Anna Kendrick) with the idea of joining their ensemble at the school's activity fair, she turns them down, looking for something else and perhaps thinking she's better than them. She should have stuck with her first instincts.

Pitch Perfect gives us an assortment of unsympathetic characters. Beyond the determination to win it all in a national a cappella competition, they exist only as quirky pawns in a comedy desperate to both latch on to an outsider status and mock those who possess it. The latter is why these characters fail to garner our sympathy; it's as if screenwriter Kay Cannon and director Jason Moore want them to be as off-putting as possible.

The story here is just routine formula with characters who either suggest—through their idiosyncratic behavior—or directly state—through Beca's dismissal of movies for their predictability—a disdain for formula. At the start of the auditions for the four singing groups on campus, the program's student head (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) assures everyone that joining an a cappella group doesn't entail gathering together to sing for the purpose of solving all of one's personal problems. If that rejection is sincere, this is, in effect, a movie that would hate itself. There's plenty of reason to doubt it has enough self-awareness to realize how awkward its mesh of cynicism and sincerity is.

Beca, whose dream is to become a DJ and spends almost every waking hour making her own music mixes, does eventually join the Barton Bellas, one of four a cappella groups at her new university (One is a group of stoners, and the other likes Madonna a lot). The year before, the group's leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) vomited all over the first three rows at the final competition. Now a senior, she wants to redeem herself. She's looking for attractive young women to join the group, but her co-captain Chloe (Brittany Snow) suggests they find people who can actually sing. After a ridiculously uncomfortable encounter in the dorm shower in which Chloe stares down Beca until she sings for her, Beca auditions and stuns everyone.

The Bellas' competition is the all-male ensemble called the Treblemakers, led by the smug Bumper (Adam DeVine). Joining them is Jesse (Skylar Astin), who interns at a local indie radio station with and likes Beca. Aubrey, though, has a hard-and-fast rule about dating Treblemakers, and Beca has issues with her father (John Benjamin Hickey) and over her parents' divorce anyway. The trajectory of their relationship—from her rejecting the idea to finally accepting it after he eventually catches on to her indecisiveness—is predictable.

The rest of the Bellas are either brazenly strange or present for the background (One of the movie's few funny lines has one of them pointing out that she's been there the whole year). Amy (Rebel Wilson), who calls herself "Fat Amy" in an attempt to beat everyone to the punch, says whatever comes to her mind and loves making a show of herself, no matter how foolish she might look. Stacie (Alexis Knapp) is promiscuous, and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is a not-so-secret lesbian, of which everyone in the group makes a big deal. The weirdest is Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), who speaks disturbing non sequiturs in a whisper; she's also the only dependably amusing character in the movie, mainly because the tone of her moments is consistent. Well, her actions when Aubrey projectile vomits again is a big, sickening exception.

As for the music, the movie's competition scenes feature plenty of over-produced, pre-recorded medleys of pop music that feel stale (The inclusion of a pair of wholly unnecessary commentators played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins surely doesn't help matters, either). Two sequences do manage to find a certain sense of spontaneity and joy to performing: One is a battle of the a cappella groups in emptied swimming pool in which one ensemble starts a song and another picks up with another based on a word in the lyrics; the other is set in the same space but has Beca taking over the Bellas' rehearsal, using her finely honed abilities to match rhythms and melodies to mash two songs together.

Kendrick is quite loveable here, even if her character's arc is a foregone conclusion waiting to happen. That she can pull off a strong presence in spite of a weak character and rather lousy material is the sign of a special sort of actress. Pitch Perfect is below her.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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