Monday Movies Sets Fires to Feel Joy
Pitch Perfect spans the intolerable and the sublime. It’s the story of Beca (Anna Kendrick), a college radio DJ who prefers to keep to her headphones but reluctantly joins an a capella singing group when her professor father says she can only quit college and go to L.A. if she spends her freshman year just trying something. She hooks up with the Bellas, an all-female group whose ranks have been decimated after the lead senior flubbed last year’s championship by projectile vomiting out her “I Saw The Sign” solo. There’s a rival boy group with a romantic foil for Beca (Jesse, played by Skylar Astin, adorable and vocally blessed), and a Revenge of the Nerds-level motley crue of misfit singers filling out the Bella’s replacement ranks.
The movie has little interest in verisimilitude, mostly when it comes to depicting college life–Beca’s dad actually welcomes her to her first semester of college by saying “campus is beautiful in spring.” (The a capella groups’ initiations, however, are dead on.) Subplots rise and fall with little payoff — here’s a bit about Skylar’s roommate Benji being cut from the team, there’s a bit about Beca’s dad’s abandonment leading to her character’s misanthropy. There’s some grotesque slang-engineering that mostly involves adding a prefix of “aca-” to whatever, and a lot of casual cruelty standing in for humor. The tight-ass dictator who serves as Beca’s foil on the Bellas is so unbelievably a control freak that it’s hard to see how she wasn’t keelhauled at the second rehearsal. As competition color commentators, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins gamely livesnark the proceedings, but they pale next to their obvious referent, Fred Willard and Bob Balaban in Best in Show. (Banks calls Higgins out as a misogynist for his pronouncement that “women can never be great a capella singers because they can’t produce those stirring bass notes,” but in the end, the movie affirms his prejudice.)
Here’s the thing, though… I had a great time. It’s a hot mess of a movie, and when it shines, it shines. Romantic leads Kendrick and Astin can both sing and act, and generate enough warmth to make you care about them no matter how unbelievable the drama gets. Rebel Wilson is hilarious in every frame she holds the camera — her line readings alone are worth the price of admission. And the a capella performances are terrific. They’re total cheats, of course, engineered with Brill Building perfection, but since the rest of the film is engineered with Dr. Moreau mania, the set pieces electrify the movie. The Bellas’ rivals, the Treble Makers, are fantastic, led by Adam De Vine (Workaholics) with tight guest rapping by Utkarsh Ambudkar and a Juan Epstein look-alike in Michael Viruet.
They would win the proceedings if it weren’t for Beca figuring out what Margaret Schlegel could have told her: Only connect! The 1980′s to the 2010′s, herself to Jesse, as mashup DJs and ingenues all at once. The movie The Breakfast Club gets boldly recruited into the emotional capper; it’s fun for me as a Generation Xer to see it put in the hands of characters who were born well after it came out, and I wonder if any of their real world counterparts give a damn about it.
What did you see, and was it on key?
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