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In an earlier post on the Culture Cast, I referred to Cabin in the Woods as 2012’s biggest surprise. I still feel this way, but I would be remiss not to mention Pitch Perfect, which I first saw just last week, as another huge surprise in cinema from last year. The movie, which appeared on the surface to be a feature-length version of awful hit television show Glee (seriously, ugh), ended up being an incredibly pleasant surprise for me, anchored by a great performance from Anna Kendrick and a script that is highly reminiscent of something like Mean Girls. It isn’t all peaches and cream, but Pitch Perfect was wholly entertaining and worthy of a viewing.
Pitch Perfect is the story of all-female a cappella group the Bellas, a group of singers from the fictional Barden University. The Bellas face scrutiny after a disastrous performance at a national competition the year before, and see a chance to seize the first title for an all-female group (and thus repair their reputation) with the addition of talented freshman Becca (Anna Kendrick) and a rag-tag hodgepodge of newcomers to the group, including the enigmatic Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) among others. In order to do this, the Bellas must place at least second in a regional competition and then go on to upset their rivals, the Treblemakers, who are led by obligatory college douchebag Bumper (Adam DeVine) and Jesse (Skylar Astin), who is also Becca’s love interest.
One of the biggest strengths in Pitch Perfect is in its writing. Kay Cannon, long-time Tina Fey collaborator, 30 Rock producer and writer, and producer on Fox’s hit sitcom New Girl, is responsible for the script, which she adapted from a non-fiction novel by Mickey Rapkin. Characterization in Pitch Perfect is predictable and somewhat typical for a college-set movie, but characters are incredibly well-written for such a trite setting. The best example is in Anna Kendrick’s Becca, who expresses realistic frustration about various situations presented in the movie, and Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy, who is just a hoot as the devil-may-care nonchalant comic relief. Even supporting characters Chloe (Brittany Snow, in my favorite performance in the film) and Aubrey (Anna Camp, who needs more work after a fine performance here) are incredibly well-done. In the cases where characters are a bit underwritten, as is seen in Becca’s love interest and rival Jesse, the acting is still good enough to over-look the lack of character development.
The performances generally transcend the writing, which is a compliment to the actors involved considering the strength of the script. As noted earlier, Anna Kendrick gives a great performance, and Brittany Snow and Anna Camp do a heck of job in supporting roles. Rebel Wilson gives a star-making performance that could have easily been a major tonal distraction, but just plain works. Skylar Astin holds his own, and Elizabeth Banks (who also produces) and John Michael Higgins cracked me up as sideline commentators for the various a cappella competitions (reminiscent of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman’s roles in Dodgeball). The music, which is mainly the works of a variety of newer artists like Bruno Mars, Miley Cyrus, Flo Rida, Rihanna, and Cee Lo Green mixed with a few older artists like Madonna, the Bangles, and Ace of Base, works incredibly well too. I did not expect this to be the case, considering artists like Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars are incredibly cheesy acts, but the film’s a cappella music plays well throughout.
If there is a noticeable flaw in the film, it is definitely in the direction. Directed by first time filmmaker Jason Moore (who helmed Avenue Q on Broadway), Pitch Perfect is passable, but lacks visual flair in many of the musical numbers. The acting and choreography are fine, and the music as noted earlier works well, but the film could definitely have benefitted from more dynamic direction. I’m not expecting Michael Bay-like bombast from a film of this variety, but that’s not to say that some more dazzling direction wouldn’t have been welcomed. The film definitely borders on the laughably cliché at some points as well, but this is a manageable flaw. The sharp dialogue and principle actors are so talented they manage to elevate some of this as well.
I ended up being quite taken with Pitch Perfect. It is a mature and well done college-set comedy. It has its fair share of gross-out humor for a PG-13 film as well, which was quite shocking and funny (as well as well-appreciated). The script as a whole was very well-written, and Kay Canon deserves great credit for her adaptation. Anna Kendrick, who has really developed into one of the finest young actresses out there, gives a very funny, nuanced performance, and Rebel Wilson is definitely a scene-stealer in her first substantial Hollywood role. Though the film nearly falls into a cliché-filled trap and the direction could have used some more razzle-dazzle, Pitch Perfect ended up being a very funny, surprising film.