Movie Review: Pitch Perfect
By Eric Hughes
January 22, 2013
Pitch Perfect is the kind of movie that, next day, leaves me perplexed – just as it did when it ended – about two things: 1) How I could be amused the many times Pitch Perfect amused me and 2) How I don’t recall any need to look away or doze off or feign momentary distraction by slipping into the kitchen for a soda. Because Pitch Perfect’s comedy is parts ridiculous, immature, lowest common denominator – all things I criticize, generally – I’m at unusual loss, though not completely. Pitch Perfect came at me so inoffensively that to quickly bash it and then walk away doesn’t feel like an appropriate thing to do.
Pitch Perfect is crude but not rude. It means well for a capella in the way Drop Dead Gorgeous meant well for beauty pageants and Bring It On for competitive cheerleading. All of these – Pitch Perfect included – pass judgment with a playful smirk. But whereas Drop Dead Gorgeous and Bring It On are commonly credited for inciting reactions to their vocations by dangling tiny worlds in front of many who either didn’t know these worlds existed or, maybe, knew they existed but didn’t care to ponder their existences – what Best in Show did for dog show culture comes to mind, too – Pitch Perfect, thanks to Glee, registers like a reaction to a reaction. Glee, which debuted three years before Pitch Perfect, put a capella on a pedestal while ridiculing it at the same time. Pitch Perfect, then, skipped right to the mockery because to praise a capella, too, wouldn’t seem fresh.
Pitch Perfect was also released at a time of heightened irony – at least as it compares to the decade when Drop Dead Gorgeous and Bring It On were made. Perhaps we have the hipsters to thank for that. Sincerity, in the public sphere, might not be in. But jest is.
It’s like if I were to one day climb all (or at least part) of the Appalachian Trail and then document my experiences with a book. If I cut the trail’s history into my mixture of exaggerated comedies of what I encountered along the way, I think a majority of people would discredit me (and rightfully so) for being too Bill Bryson. So I tighten up and report my trip seriously, or I loosen up even more than Bill did and report all of it sarcastically.
Pitch Perfect is the latter. An exacerbated, hyper-vulgar Glee.
Like most collegiate, team competition-based movies, Pitch Perfect captures the in-fighting between rival teams (and more particularly, rivalries within those teams) as the students move from fall tryouts to spring nationals. Pitch Perfect prologues, though, by opening at last season’s finals, where the a capella group we’re about to care about (The Barden Bellas) fails to win – finish their routine, even – after their captain, mid-song, projectile vomits everywhere. For several seconds. It’s as gross as it sounds, sure, but the chuck serves clear purpose. It says: “Don’t think too hard about what you’re about to see because much of it will be so detached from reality that it won’t make sense.”
And Pitch Perfect really doesn’t make sense. It seems to lose its story about midway through. I have a feeling they shot way more than they needed, and then the editor was left trying to force some semblance of cohesion. Characters interact in ways, too, that I don’t believe stemmed from college experience -- or any experience. Like when Brittany Snow (Chloe) enthusiastically jumps into Anna Kendrick’s (Beca) shower - both women, of course, are naked - when Chloe confirms Beca can sing by overhearing her sweet voice in the locker room. Then Beca, who is supposedly an introverted DJ who would never admit she’s alternative, doesn’t shoo Brittany away but completes her song. Was this supposed to be cute? A little homoerotic? I’m not really sure.
Pitch Perfect is less concerned with potty humor - despite a character making “snow angels” in more vomit a bit later on - than it is with stuffing scenes with crass retorts. This is where Rebel Wilson shines. Her snark punctuates scenes with dashes of whimsy, and I don’t know that there would have been a movie without her. At least not one I’d be compelled to review. She makes getting struck by a flying burrito while pumping gas into a van funny. She does something called a mermaid dance, and calls herself Fat Amy so “twig bitches” like Aubrey (Anna Camp) don’t do it behind her back. I’m pretty sure a few years from now we’ll segment Rebel’s young career into pre- and post-Pitch Perfect pieces.
The movie would have benefited greatly from some genre awareness, though. It seemed a rare omission considering the screenplay was by a writer from 30 Rock. Beca’s soft romance with Jesse (Skylar Astin) certainly would not have seemed so obligatory. And I think the device would have given everyone more room to breathe and play.
I’d like to point out that John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are like kids with microphones while providing the tournament’s color commentary. I don’t know that they out-do Best in Show’s Fred Willard and Jim Piddock, but the performances are comparable. When is Elizabeth Banks’ first Christopher Guest movie anyway?