DIR: Jason Moore • WRI: Kay Cannon • PRO: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks
Trends seem to have an unpredictable life span. The entertainment industry will clearly jump on any bandwagon, ride it (and drain it) for all it is worth and sadly still be making films in that narrow niche area long after the rest of the world has moved on.
No prizes for guessing that it’s the shadow of Glee that hangs over this college based comedy about competitive acapella singing. It’s hard for the unwieldy release of a feature to compete with a weekly TV show and still rival it for relevance. In fact, based on my cursory knowledge of Glee (I swear to God it’s cursory) I know that this film doesn’t just cover the same territory as the TV show but it also covers some of the same songs.
That said, it’s a pleasure to report that Pitch Perfect is not some dead-eyed cynical cash in. Sure it’s surprising that it needed to be based on a book in the first place but it does have a sparky undercurrent of genuine wit and is populated by amiable performers with Anna Kendrick leading the cast with her now customary charm. She plays Beca who is reluctantly attending a college where her father is Dean. Determined to remain anti-social while covertly pursuing a career as a DJ, she is reluctantly recruited to the Bellas – an all-female acapella group lead by the highly strung Aubrey (Anna Camp).
Aubrey’s conservative musical choices are boring the bejasus out of judges, choir commentators and members of her own vocal group. There’s a recurring gag about the choir endlessly reprising Ace of Base’s ‘The Sign’ to the muted despair of audiences. Predictably with Beca’s established fondness for remixing and ‘mash ups’, the two girls are on collision course. Although in terms of dramatic stakes, the battle for supremacy is a bit too gentle at times.
Complaining about corny or cringey scenes in a film like this is mainly redundant. Most of the time it’s the exact effect that the filmmakers are aiming for. The smarmy male rivals from the same campus provide plenty of such moments. On a weaker note, (ahem) there’s a regrettable reliance on projective vomiting for negligible comedic return. If anything elevates the film, it’s the impressive ensemble female cast with Rebel Wilson shining as the self dubbed Fat Amy. There’s also a hilariously soft spoken Asian girl who continually confesses terrible things at a volume only dogs could hear.
Musically, the film offers few highlights. Even Beca’s supposedly superior musical taste seems remarkably mainstream and unsophisticated. Remixing ‘Bust a Move’ may be a connective reference to the same song’s use in her breakthrough film Up in the Air but it doesn’t establish her own character in this film especially well. However, her initially faltering version of ‘No Diggity’ that eventually clicks with her troupe is a mini-triumph. Elsewhere, my ears might be deceiving me but the actual live performances seem to quickly abandon the core concept of the music just being formed from vocals.
There are a few other incidental pleasures in the film too. Producer Elizabeth Banks casts herself as one of those ‘Best in Show’-type commentators who undercut the on-stage sweetness with a dose of acid reality. Though in an odd aberration and massive oversight the film doesn’t actually fully establish who she and co-host John Michael Higgins are actually talking to. They don’t seem to be speaking to the audience in the arena or to TV cameras so who exactly are they addressing their quips to? Each other? Maybe they’re just two lunatics with laptops who wandered in.
There’s further accidental amusement in the casting of Kendrick & Co who are all clearly a decade too old to be playing college girls. Still, even these choices add an extra air of enjoyment to a film that could easily be picked apart by nit-picking but hey, it’s hard to be too down on it at this time of year. If you know what to expect, you should have a good time. If you know it’s not your bag then steer clear.