Friday, October 5, 2012

PITCH PERFECT Has Some Legit Comedy Lurking Beneath Teen Movie Facade


- Somewhere deep within Pitch Perfect lies a pretty crazy, funny, subversive comedy flick dying to get out. You can tell that the filmmakers knew they were tasked with making a relatively safe, by-the-numbers teen comedy, but that they tried their best to sneak in some of the good stuff. Witness the Christopher Guest-esque roles of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, the self-aware schtick of Workaholic's Adam DeVine, and the punk-rock hurricane that is Rebel Wilson. There are ingredients here for great comedy, and there are moments that hint at what could have been. But all of that edgier comedy is buried under an extremely thick layer of would-be Glee, teen-pop movie-making 101.

Pitch Perfect tells the story of Anna Kendrick's Becca, a slightly dark, sort of edgy-ish girl who finds herself as a freshman at Barden University, even though she'd rather be out of school trying to work on her music. Despite her initial reluctance, Becca gets coerced into joining the Bellas, an all-girl a capella group, led by the peppy, preppy, sorority girl-esque duo of Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp). However, the rest of the group is a mix of outcasts and oddballs. There's emo Becca, the outrageously sassy personality who's dubbed herself "Fat Amy" (Rebel Wilson), and several other unique characters from the stock teen-comedy playbook. In the previous year's accapella tournament, the Bellas blew it after an embarrassing mid-song upchuck from Aubrey, so this year, she and Chloe are more determined than ever to go all the way. In addition to their intercollegiate rivalries, the Bellas also have a love/hate relationship with their male counterparts in the Treblemakers. Led by goofy Bumper (Adam Devine), the would-be cool-kids of the Treblemakers are looked at wearily by the Bellas, and there's a strict no-comingling policy between the two groups. Of course, the Treblemakers have their own version of Becca - a semi-geeky movie buff named Jesse (Skylar Astin), who works at the college radio station with Becca. The two have the classic will-they-or-won't-they thing going, with tensions formed primarily over the shield that Becca puts up around herself, reluctant to give herself any emotional attachments.

Pretty much, you can predict every beat of Pitch Perfect before it happens. There's little here that deviates from the standard teen movie template. But what elevates things are the great cast and little doses of random humor. Given the subject matter, it's unbelievable how stacked this movie is. Kendrick is a fantastic actress, and she brings much more depth and subtlety to Becca than most others would have. You've got to think the movie cheats a little in casting Kendrick - I mean, hasn't she already played parts much older than college freshman? - but the upside is a great actress who helps to elevate the movie and carry it on her back. I love Anna Camp from True Blood, and she's good here despite her role calling for her to play a pretty annoying character. Brittany Snow is good. Rebel Wilson has "comedy superstar" written all over her, and makes a lot of lines funnier just by virtue of her expert delivery and dry sense of humor. Adam Devine is one of those guys who can say the stupidest things ever and still make it funny by taking it to that extra level. And the scenes with Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are show-stealers, inserting some hilarious, Best In Show-style humor into the preceedings, and really mocking the absurdity of a capella (because let's face it, is there anything worse than college a cappella groups?) - even as the rest of the film celebrates it.

But ... for those who watch Glee for the songs and who love spirited a capella renditions of everything from Rihanna to Salt n' Peppa, Cyndi Lauper to Ace of Base ... you'll probably love this. Some of the songs grated on me, but I'll admit that I was at times won over by all the 80's classics that play a big part in the movie. The movie's got a huge soft-spot for the movies and music of John Hughes, and The Breakfast Club and Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" play a critical part in the film. So that's kind of cool. Overall, the movie does a nice job of mixing and editing the musical numbers and making them fun to watch. And if you're a guy (though let's face it, many dudes will be staying far away from this), you've got many minutes of Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, and Anna Kendrick dancing semi-provocatively to look forward to. So there's that. If you're a girl (let me clarify - the kind of girl who eats up all things Glee and loves Bring It On) well, you'll probably love this movie.

Again though, for every bit of surprisingly good acting, for every moment of random humor that sneaks through the cracks ... there is a lot of fluff. A lot of eye-roll-inducing cheesiness. A lot of lame schtick. And a lot of so-schmaltzy-it-hurts teen romance that makes little attempt to be anything other than cookie-cutter. I touched on this earlier, but there's something that Christopher Guest does in movies like A Mighty Wind, where he both honors and satirizes a particular subculture in funny and clever ways. It's frustrating, because Pitch Perfect has some of those Guestian moments. But by and large, the movie is only barely winking at the audience. It's a fine line, but in the end, this is one of those movies where the magic of accapella brings everyone together and the emo girl learns to play nice and make friends and gets the guy. And even though certain jokes sing, too much of the humor is way too obvious, cheap, or just plain cheesy. Like all the "a ca ___" wordplay. Or the weaksauce attempts to ape Bridesmaids' grossout gags that feel thrown in to the mix because hey, now girls can be gross too (haven't you heard).

All in all though, this is a fairly inoffensive, surprisingly fun flick that does cover up many of its flaws with a game cast and some moments of inspired humor. If you're already predisposed to love this stuff, Pitch Perfect might be your new favorite movie. For everyone else, there's enough here that ... take it from me ... it's not too painful of a pill to swallow. And if that doesn't convince you - hey, it's got the Breakfast Club freeze frame.

My Grade: B-

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