Monday, January 21, 2013

Pitch Perfect (2012)

About halfway through the 2012 comedy musical Pitch Perfect, the female lead Beca, played by Anna Kendrick, is talking to her love interest Jesse, played by Skylar Astin. Jesse wants to be a film composer/arranger and is trying to tell Beca why this means so much and the power music in film can have. Beca rolls her eyes, saying she doesn't really like movies because they are so predictable and she never seems to get to the end. It's a pretty clever, self aware moment in the movie, basically telling the audience to expect the happy ending forthcoming. There's not going to be any tricks, you all know it's going to end with a smile and a trophy, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the ride.

Unfortunately, pointing this out doesn't help if the rest of the movie is willing to stand up to scrutiny. It's one thing for a film to acknowledge it's cliches, but another entirely for it to transcend them. Telling us the labored nature of the setup only works if the punchline kills. Pitch Perfect, while a fun movie that would be perfect for catching on cable Saturday afternoon, isn't able to get there, though it does find itself awfully close at times.

The story follows wannabe music producer Beca as she goes off to college. She's ready to go right to Los Angelos and start working but her professor father insists she goes. When she resists, he tells her that if she joins a club that she really engages in and still wants to go to LA, he'll pay for the move. So Beca joins up with the all female acapella group on campus, the Bellas. Thus starts the movie, which follows the floundering group through the different stages of the competitive acapella scene as they face off with their rivals, the all male Treblemakers.

Basically it's Glee: The College Years. Yet the movie clearly doesn't want to be seen as that. Early in the movie, in yet another meta moment, uptight leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) tells everybody that they're not here to talk about all their personal problems and are there to work and rehearse. It pays off later in the movie, but it's pretty hard not to see that as a swipe at the megapopular show. This is probably the biggest issue of the movie, it doesn't know if it fully wants to embrace it's Gleeness or be more of a wacky comedy with some singing.

It falls into the trap lots of studio comedies do. I call it The Caddyshack Problem™. Now Caddyshack is a very funny movie that I'm sure most of you have seen. If you have you of course remember all the funny stuff Chevy Chase, Ted Knight, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield did, because those are by far the funniest parts of the movie. If you watch it again though, you'll see that none of those guys are really the protagonist of the film. That would the caddy, Danny. He wants to go to college but can't afford it, and also he has a romance with a girl who he cheats on with Ted Knight's daughter but his girlfriend is pregnant. If you are like most people you probably don't remember these parts of the movie very well, and for good reason because they suck. But that is technically the main plot thread in the movie because a movie studio doesn't want to put money on a movie that doesn't have an audience avatar in it reacting to all the stuff the funny people around them do.

Pitch Perfect has a lot of funny singular gags to it, which is to be expected from screenwriter and former 30 Rock writer/producer Kay Cannon. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are hilarious as the two competition commentators, and all the girls in the acapella group have funny moments as well, especially ultraquiet Lily and ultraloud Fat Amy, played by Rebel Wilson doing her best Megan McCarthy impression. Additionally, some gags absolutely kill, as in literally laughing out loud because it's that funny. But then you get the caddy plot, which involves Beca having to learn how to trust again and falling in love with some guy. It's boring, just as predictable as the movies Beca complained about earlier.

Still, it's a pretty enjoyable movie. I wouldn't necessarily say it's a must see or anything, but if you like Bridesmaids or Glee then Pitch Perfect might be worth a rental. On the Wicker Scale, Nicolas Cage has punched Anna Kendrick while in a bear costume, but Christopher Lee is polietly enjoying their mash up to Don't You Forget About Me.

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