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Review: Pitch Perfect

'Damned good genre entertainment. I laughed my pianissimo off.'

 

I don’t want to sound sexist, but I think that the only way Pitch Perfect could have been better is if they recast all the actresses as men and repackaged it as the origin of Rockapella. That way, in the sequel (fingers crossed), they stop Carmen Sandiego before she ransacks Pakistan, runs a scam in Scandinavia, sticks ‘em up down under and pickpockets Perth.

But that is the only way that I could recommend this feel-good doo-wopping movie more than I already am. Pitch Perfect looks for all the world like the kind of lowest common denominator music-based comedy with a “believe in yourself” message that we all grew sick of halfway through Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, and sure enough, that’s exactly what it is, but with a sharper screenplay, memorable characters and more vomit than you’d usually find on an episode of “Glee,” the film’s closest relation in the pop culture consciousness.

That said, and unlike “Glee,” a show whose strengths lie in repurposing pop songs for otherwise unquantifiable adolescent expression, the music in Pitch Perfect seems kind of incidental. It’s enough that there is music, and that these a cappella groups are pretty good at performing it. These are not confused youngsters yearning to convey their confusing emotions and overcome their harsh surroundings, they are fully-formed adults (almost) who are seeking camaraderie within a competitive setting and experimenting with new pursuits in a college environment wherein actual studying runs distant third behind romance and extracurricular activities. In other words, they are fully believable college freshmen.

The plot, he writes as he pads the review with information you could easily find on IMDb, involves a rebellious college student played by Anna Kendrick who wants to forego her studies and move to California to pay her dues and become a proper DJ. Her father, who teaches at the university, agrees to finance this sojourn provided she gives the traditional college experience a fair chance for a whole year, and participate in at least one extracurricular activity beyond tidying the campus radio station. After getting ambushed in the shower by an a cappella enthusiast in need of new members for her waning musical act, our heroine embarks on an eye-rolling tour of the strange and alien world of vocalists with no other passions besides covering pop tunes entirely with their mouths.

The conventional (but still effective) underdog sporting tropes bolster this plotline because… something has to happen, and to allow the talented cast to interact in ways that show off their comic and occasionally genuinely dramatic chops. Anna Kendrick engages in a largely believable romance with Skylar Astin, the world’s least-threatening and most available male, but also a guy with enough self-confidence to reject Kendrick after the renegade attitude by which she defines herself reveals a total lack of respect for his feelings. That’s one of Pitch Perfect’s greatest strengths. In this type of movie, the lone wolf who comes to redefine the musical act and/or sports team usually has to grow past their stifling parents or their lack of drive. Pitch Perfect bucks that trend by presenting a hero with obvious talent but a genuine lack of maturity, thinking herself above her peers when, in fact, her cynicism actually demonstrates the exact opposite. Bravo. Bravissimo.

So with the heroine’s character arc actually arcing for a change and the dramatic weight of the film actually showing up on a scale, Pitch Perfect is free to focus on the enjoyable supporting characters who each, like in bad movies of this stripe, have a single defining trait, but at least the traits are interesting. Fat Amy, played by Rebel Wilson, is the brunt of several anti-cardio jokes but she also enjoys a healthy sex life and is at least once seen as the object of the innate affection of multiple male swimsuit models. Lily, played by Hana Mae Lee, is the quiet one who inevitably belts out a surprisingly potent solo at the end, but only after inaudibly declaring that she starts fires just to feel joy and did a nickel in a maximum-security prison. The stuck-up leader, played by Anna Camp, attempts to stifle the heroine’s creativity but eventually embraces change… along with her barely controllable need to projectile vomit at nearly all times. These characters are, for the highly specific subgenre at hand at rate, novel at worst, and uniquely entertaining at best. That’s a win/win.

Okay, so Pitch Perfect isn’t exactly pitch perfect. You won’t learn anything valuable, it doesn’t introduce anything new to the cinematic medium and the world will remain largely the same after its release. It is, however, damned good genre entertainment. I laughed my pianissimo off, and that’s no small achievement for a film of any pedigree. What’s more, I never felt pandered to. This isn’t a blatant marketing cash grab, nor is it a celebration of negativity that simultaneously mocks and justifies antisocial behavior. This is a good movie. It feels good, it sounds good and, for about two hours, it makes life pretty good. Pitch Perfect sings.