I had heard great things about Pitch Perfect, and as a musical theatre nerd who spent all four years of high school taking chorus, I was excited to see it. Overall, it was an enjoyable movie, with some well-developed characters you could root for and song arrangements that gave me chills. The movie was strongest when it was following the acapella groups; its attempts at deepening the story largely failed, leading to uneven characterization and some storylines that were either pointless or went nowhere altogether. But its strong moments were great, and at the very least, it was entertaining throughout. (And obviously, there be spoilers ahead.)
The movie begins with the national collegiate acapella finals, held in Lincoln Center. Right away, we meet the two successful groups from Barden University: the Bellas, the school’s only all-girl group, and the Treblemakers, the reigning champions. The Treblemakers are clearly rock stars in the world of collegiate acapella groups, and the Bellas…well, they’re there, too. They’re talented, but we immediately see their lack of originality as they perform a routine that, while technically proficient, has none of the charm of the Treblemakers’ earlier performance.
Chloe and Aubrey (Brittany Snow and Anna Camp) are the only two Bellas who aren’t graduating, meaning they’ll be running the group the following year. Hoping to put on a good show and assure the seniors that the Bellas will be in good hands, the two put on their games faces during their performance, but Aubrey’s nerves get the best of her, and she winds up projectile vomiting almost as soon as she begins her solo.
The following fall, Beca (Anna Kendrick) begins her freshman year at Barden. She’s interested in music, and enjoys creating mash-ups of songs. She briefly meets Jesse (Spring Awakening’s Skylar Astin), and the two eventually audition for the Treblemakers and the Bellas, though Beca initially wants nothing to do with it. She and Jesse also intern at the school’s radio station together, and slowly become friends.
Overall, I really liked this movie. I’m a sucker for acapella music, and the arrangements used were beautiful (my personal favorite was the Treblemaker’s performance of Right Round, though their opening performance of the famous Universal Studios score was awesome as well). Obviously Astin’s singing was great, as expected, but Anna Kendrick’s voice was a lovely surprise. Normally I’m stubborn in my opinion that the lead in a musical should be at least somewhat known for being a singer, but Kendrick’s lack of experience worked in this case (EDIT: Apparently Anna Kendrick does have singing experience, and was nominated for a Tony when she was twelve. Okay, ignore this). Beca wasn’t supposed to be this amazing singer whose voice changes the focus of the Bellas – it was her innovation, not necessarily her talent, that affected the group, which was a realistic touch that I appreciated.
The chemistry between Kendrick and Astin was palpable, and built slowly throughout the movie. It was another unexpected touch of realism – it was inevitable that the two would get together, but their friendship was believable and important to them, not just a necessary stop before they could get to what they really wanted. Beca and Jesse genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, which I think has been missing from most recent movies. Most characters have no connection outside of the burning fire in their loins; Jesse and Beca had a real friendship, and because of that, you couldn’t help but root for them.
(Also, Jesse’s super attractive and he’s a movie buff. So. Needless to say, I was very, very interested in his scenes.)
The movie was at its best when it focused on the internal and external conflicts the Bellas face. Before Beca meets Jesse and auditions for the group, we see a little bit of her new life at school: her father’s a professor at Barden, and he insisted that she go to college instead of moving to LA and working at a record label, as she had dreamed. The scene when all of this was established bored me a bit – the conflict with her dad continued throughout the film, though it was never a focal point. It seemed like the screenwriter (Kay Cannon, whom I normally adore) was trying to make a movie that wasn’t just about acapella groups, but never quite figured out how to do it. I appreciate the attempt to make Beca more three-dimensional, and to give her a life outside of when the movie begins and ends, but the storyline was largely pointless. Even after the normally stoic Beca realizes she’s been pushing people away and goes to her dad’s to try and apologize, there’s no real pay-off. This and an earlier scene when she and her dad fight only serve to progress her storyline with Jesse and justify why she stays in the Bellas.
We also see this with Beca’s roommate, Kimmy Jin. At first, Kimmy Jin completely ignores Beca, and while it’s played for laughs, it’s not big or frequent enough to be considered a running gag. It’s just…there. The only time Kimmy Jin is at all relevant is when she comes into the room right after Beca avoids a kiss from Jesse, thus cueing him to leave and letting Beca avoid the awkward aftermath. And then…that’s it for Kimmy Jin’s relevance. Like I said, Beca and Jesse’s story is strong on its own; I don’t know why there are so many other elements that seem to exist just to further their story, because it doesn’t need the help and it just weakens the movie.
The movie was also weakened by randomly weak characterization. Beca’s storylines with her dad and roommate aren’t the only storylines that waste perfectly good conflicts. Chloe and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), along with Beca and Aubrey, are the most important Bellas, and yet, there’s almost no point to them. Sure, Chloe is the one who convinces Beca to audition for the group, but the girl who’s so confident with her body that she can interrupt someone else’s shower just to hear them sing completely disappears after that scene. She and Aubrey were supposed to be in charge, but Chloe’s too afraid to stand up to the other girl. If I hadn’t seen the opening scene, I would have thought that Aubrey was the only one with power. I could buy Chloe letting Aubrey be in charge of teaching their traditional choreography to the new Bellas, but once she found out about Beca’s talents for arranging music, why wouldn’t the girl who can orchestrate a nude singalong at least listen to Beca’s ideas and try to sell Aubrey on it? Even when Aubrey does finally come around to Beca’s ideas, it’s not Chloe’s doing. Sure, Chloe does finally snap in that scene and tell Aubrey how she feels, but the whole group wants Beca; it’s completely irrelevant that Chloe’s believed in Beca the whole time, which makes me question why Chloe even believed in her in the first place.
Likewise, I can see no point to Fat Amy’s inclusion in the movie. She’s the comic relief…but sometimes she’s being serious, or more subdued, or confident. They try to give her dimensions, but it doesn’t work, because the role went to Rebel Wilson in a post-Bridesmaids hype, and as much as I usually like Rebel Wilson, I think she’s too broad (or at least playing Fat Amy too broadly) for the role. There was no arc to Fat Amy, and nothing to justify why her role was so heavily featured. She had a few running jokes, like how she’s completely unfamiliar with Judaism, or her relationship with Bumper, the star Treblemaker, that go nowhere. Again, I have to ask: why include them at all?
A few random observations:
-Normally I don’t nitpick facts like this, but they make such a big deal over Chloe’s surgery to remove her nodes and that she can no longer sing over a G-sharp. They even realize that she can sing the bass notes no one in the Bellas could ever hit. But then at their performance at Lincoln Center, she has a solo…where she very clearly sings much higher than a G-sharp. Then later hits those bass notes. Yeah, no.
-I love Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins (Professor Whitman!), and while I like that they weren’t overused in the movie, I think the scenes they did have could have been…I don’t know. More memorable, maybe? The only line that really got me was Banks’ line about having to go fan her “downtown,” and Higgins’ remark that women know as much about singing as they do about being doctors.
-Beca’s tattoo of headphones on her wrist was adorable.
-Lilly was probably my favorite non-Beca Bella. “Want to see a dead body?” Her bits were hilarious, and were sprinkled throughout just enough that it was still funny, but you didn’t get sick of it.
-No, but really. Skylar Astin. Marry me.
What did you think of Pitch Perfect? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and what aspects of my review you agreed or disagreed with. See you guys Friday!