Movie review: Pitch Perfect
Hitting the right notes, the melody in this musical film is one we know very well
Posted: January 2, 2013
Sing what now? Of course, Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin will end up together in this film, but will their singing teammates approve?
Films with song-and-dance numbers have their audience, but they usually don't achieve much success, because beyond the choreography and the lip-synching even the most naïve of filmgoers can see the narrative for what it is: a flimsy means to incorporate the dancing, and nothing more.
When the narrative shows some genuine promise, there is hope. But, more often than not, we get saddled with half-baked storylines whose conclusion - one of the romantic variety - is crystal clear from the very beginning, and although the hot and flexible cast members try to blind us to the emptiness of the ensemble, they fail because two-hour music videos have trouble being interesting.
The casting of Anna Kendrick as the lead in this musical comedy drama, however, should alert the viewer to the prospect that perhaps this won't be like all the other dance flops of the year, like Step Up Revolution or the ghastly StreetDance 2. Kendrick starred as George Clooney's ingénue in Up in the Air and provided some necessary levity as Jake Gyllenhaal's wife in the gripping recent police drama End of Watch.
One would have thought Kendrick a more serious actress than one who chooses to star in a musical about a cappella groups at university. But although many of her fellow actresses look like the blond twigs one would expect to be in this kind of film, she is firmly supported by straight-talking Rebel Wilson and doe-eyed Skylar Astin.
Directed by Jason Moore
With Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp
After the disastrous Bachelorette, Wilson, who is blond though anything but a twig, gets to play a role that suits her talents. Reverting back to her native Australian accent, her character is a Tasmanian girl who calls herself "Fat Amy," to ensure no one can talk bad about her behind her back. She is heavy and has a strong singing voice, but it would seem that Tasmania doesn't have any Jews or gays, as she constantly mocks these people around her. It's a character trait that, given her own issues of big-bonedness, one would have expected the film to delve into a little more deeply.
Pitch Perfect opens at an a cappella national final, similar to those events that usually come at the end of a season of Glee, where the air hostess lookalikes called The Bellas from Barden University are competing. But during their final performance, Aubrey (Anna Camp), the lead singer who is every bit as ambitious as Election's Tracy Flick, but without the brains, throws up all over the stage, and their dreams of being national champions are crushed, or rather, splattered.
But a new year apparently brings another opportunity to embarrass yourself - it's a film about university students, after all. Undaunted by the prospect of heaving under the pressure and the spotlight, Aubrey tries to recruit more students for The Bellas, but her reputation has been irrevocably tarnished. That is, until her determination pays off. Freshman Beca (Kendrick), who spends her days walking hipsterlike down the halls with enormous headphones or sitting on the lawn and mixing songs on her laptop, joins the club because she can sing, and her father says she has to be more social or he won't pay for her tuition. This may be a first in the history of student life.
The Bellas' competition are the all-boy Treblemakers, who count the adorable Jesse (Skylar Astin) among their members. They are the reigning a cappella champs, so the rivalry between the two teams is fierce, despite the constant reminder how much Aubrey shared with the audience the last time her team competed against the Treblemakers.
The film would like us to believe that Jesse and Beca, being on opposing teams, cannot fall for each other, as that would likely spell their doom. But that doesn't matter: As long as they are together onscreen, the viewer is satisfied, because these are not too teenagers whose age affect their mood swings; on the contrary, they are mostly quite stable.
There is a bit of pubescent hysteria and public humiliation thrown in for good measure, but without Kendrick the film arguably would have been much worse. She has a bit with a plastic cup right at the end that will steal your heart, and she saves the film from oblivion, but Kendrick doesn't deserve all the credit. If Rebel Wilson ever becomes a big-time actress, Pitch Perfect will be the one that made the public sit up and notice.
All the mash-ups are likely to remind the viewer of Glee, and those who don't like the series are better off staying away. Pitch Perfect is a step up from the drivel we're used to, but while it is slightly more levelheaded about its central relationship, there is little style from television director Jason Moore, and the desire for melodrama often hurts the film in cases where a look or a shrug would have been more successful.
André Crous can be reached at