There’s been a sort of breakout in the popularity of A Cappella-themed media in entertainment of late, whether it’s Fox’s musical comedy Glee or the Sing Off reality show. And with Pitch Perfect, Universal Studios has thrown their hat into the ring to try and deliver the most electrifying performance of top 40′s hits seen on screen yet. Was it a success? Or did Pitch Perfect fall as flat as some of the notes sung by the stars?
Barden University is the typical college setting of Pitch Perfect, a tongue-in-cheek comedy that both takes itself seriously and has fun with its conventions, often branching out and feeling a bit over the top for a simple comedy film. While the University serves as home to several A Cappella groups, the film revolves around the rivalry between the trendy all-male group the Treblemakers and the all-female Barden Bellas. And while the Bellas have talent, dated material and unfortunate performance mishaps have plagued them in the past, leaving them almost completely member-less and forcing them to start from scratch as they search for new recruits.
Cue Beca, your typical broody, misunderstood freshman with an attitude and tough exterior played by Anna Kendrick. Armed with loops and a love for making mashups, Beca has dreams of working in a studio in LA and making music for a living, but her dreams have been put on hold by the wishes of her professor father to see her attend college and get a degree. Because of that, Beca is resentful and unpleasant, burying herself in her music and refusing to branch out and meet anyone until chance occurs and pulls her away to the student activities fair, where she meets the insisting Bellas and turns down their offer to audition for the A Cappella group.
That is, until a pushy member of the group convinces her to in an amusing (and slightly awkward) shower scene not at all like you’re imagining.
After that, Bella shows up and auditions, making the cut and quickly earning a reputation as an upstart in the group.
After that, the film follows the group as they try and win top honors at the A Cappella championships, a title that all-female groups have struggled to win in the past due to the lack of vocal range between sopranos and altos.
From the start, Pitch Perfect is pure fun with a lot of flaws and plot holes. Between the Bellas and the Treblemakers, the film sets up for a fair amount of animosity and leads you to expect all of the characters to hate each other and duke it out in a bitter rivalry. Not so; in fact, Beca and her love interest Jesse are both from each of the respective groups, leading to a controversial situation that could have been interesting, had the film actually tackled it head on. Instead, the issue was skirted around and forgone in favor of other elements meant to illustrate conflict that came off feeling more like afterthougts than actual plot development.
Kendrick does a fine enough job playing Beca, but it’s unclear from the get go why Beca’s even interested in the Bellas in the first place. After all, it doesn’t fit her personality and she makes it pretty clear in the beginning that she’s happy making mixes and working as an intern at the school’s radio station.
The groups themselves contain the typical array of over-the-top portrayals of stereotypes, be they the slutty girl, the smart girl, the crazy girl, or even the boisterous and loud comic relief character Fat Amy. Sure, they work fine to deliver a charming enough group, but I never sensed any real connection between the members and never felt compelled to care about them in any way.
Beca and Jesse’s relationship is awkward and lacking chemistry as she plays the role of a sour, closed-up bad girl who’s seen trouble and won’t trust her emotions to another human being, while Jesse is the fun, upbeat guy who gives chase to Beca for reasons I wasn’t able to understand. It mostly sorts itself out in the end, but it’s no love story for the ages.
And while competent enough, the film’s writing was all over the place, making good on some of the plot conventions and following up on several holes, but failing to catch other more glaring opportunities. Conflict felt jumbled and anticlimactic, dialogue is hammy and uninspired, and like Glee, the film was not without its fair share of cheese.
But for all its faults, Pitch Perfect is pure fun. The music is fantastic, the story and dialogue never stops delivering on jokes, and it’s willing to both be serious and poke fun at itself in a way that makes it a blast to watch. Don’t go expecting to see an Oscar nominated film with Pitch Perfect. Rather, go to see a fun-filled film with great music and an interesting portrayal into the lives of collegiate A Cappella singers and the rivalries between them.