Pitch Perfect

Competitive a capella singing is the premise of this alleged comedy

Also opening this week:

• Life of Pi ★★★

Pitch Perfect

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Directed by Jason Moore. Starring Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Brittany Snow, Ben Platt, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks, Hana Mae Lee, John Michael Higgins, Freddie Stroma, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jackie Tuttle, Glen Warner, James Rawlings, Donald Faison, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Michael Viruet. Written by Kay Cannon, from the book by Mickey Rapkin.

Two movies compete for screen time in the slickly-produced, well-cast and acted but otherwise inexplicable Pitch Perfect, which pits a formula sports movie against jokeless superficial comedy. One approach is usually better than the other in cases like this, but I’m not sure anything could have saved this movie.

Key problem: the film revolves around the world of competitive a capella singing, which is apparently a real phenomenon, as depicted in the non-fiction novel of the same name by Mickey Rapkin. Not a fan of singing on display here, each of the musical interludes sounded about the same to me, making the competitive aspect of the film impossible to judge apart from audience reaction.

But maybe you are a fan of a capella; in which case you may be annoyed by all the (clearly) non-vocal instruments being used during the performances. 

In either case, the film fails to make clear what is involved in a good a capella performance. There’s the singing, obviously, and some choreography; beyond that, as long as the lead doesn’t vomit on stage the act seems to be deemed a success. We have so little invested in being able to judge what is or isn’t good here that we need to wait for the judges to come out and tell us; even then, we’re unsure if they’ve made the correct decision.

Helping us out are John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also co-produced the film) as snide commentators; they’re intended as some kind of play-by-play broadcast announcers, which doesn’t make any sense, because they talk all over the performances.

Most of those performances come via The Bellas, one of four a capella groups at Barden College, headed by the strict Aubrey (Anna Camp) and the slightly more open Chloe (Brittany Snow). Their latest recruit is freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring DJ who joins only because her father has forced her participation in something before he’ll approve a move to L.A.

The all-female Bellas compete with the all-male group The Treblemakers – the reigning champs of some description – for not just top group on campus, but on some kind of state or national level. Jesse (Skylar Astin), a Treblemaker, begins a forbidden romance with Beca, and introduces her to The Breakfast Club after she tells him she doesn’t like movies because the endings are obvious…

It’s all a joke, and the film treats it as such. Unfortunately, the joke ain’t funny, and Pitch Perfect never digs below the surface. The Bellas recruit comic support in the form of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), butch lesbian Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean), and inaudible shy Asian girl Lilly (Hana Mae Lee); not that they say or do anything comedic –  they’re supposed to be funny because they’re fat, butch, and shy (or is it because she’s Asian?) It’s the level of comedy you expect from an Adam Sandler movie.

Pitch Perfect‘s saving grace is a talented young cast who do more for the movie than the movie does for them; Kendrick, Camp, and Snow have enough vibrancy between them to (almost) make this formula seem fresh. Otherwise, this is generic, disposable product that doesn’t take itself seriously enough to make us care (a la Whip It) or become silly enough to make us laugh. 

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