Saturday, February 02, 2013

Movie Review - Pitch Perfect

When we first saw the trailer for Pitch Perfect last summer, my wife and I both chuckled. It looked like a super cheesy concept with some decent writing and one-liners. It wasn't appealing enough to warrant a visit to the theater, but now that it's on DVD, we made a rental.

I honestly wasn't expecting too much from this movie. I'm a fan of music performed well. I'm even a fan of acapella music and have a number of CDs from various acapella groups and have been to a couple of concerts. They have a cool sound and it amazes me to see the kind of vocal talent people have. I just wasn't sure the "college acapella circuit" was something that could sustain a full movie.

The movie starts with a scene at the collegiate acapella national championships. You get to see some vocal talent but more than that, you quickly get a feel for the tone of the show. The groups are over-the-top cheesy. Acapella is their entire life and meaning for existence. They are ultra competitive and snarky to one another. The "sportscasters" are hilariously tongue-in-cheek and 'unintentionally' risqué with their comments. And then, to put the icing on the cake, the championship ends with a literal explosion of disgusting hilarity. It caught me unawares and certainly showed that this was going to be an irreverent comedy.

Returning to the college campus, we catch up with the "outsider" who will be our main character. Beca is a music lover who spends her hours mixing music with the dream of being a DJ or music executive in charge of putting together the sickest tracks imaginable. She's caught somewhere between grungy and preppy but definitely leaning towards the loaner side. In spite of all the other clubs and groups out there, she soon finds herself drawn into the acapella crowd. At first it seems she's very reluctantly joining in just as "something to do" to appease her father who insists that she must get involved on campus.

With a new season of acapella competition beginning, the groups hold auditions and it's readily apparent that the choices are limited. There are plenty of people trying out but everybody comes with quirks and eccentricities that come together to create a very ragtag group of singers.

Beca tries to bring the group to a new level by using her outsider, angsty nature along with her love and talent for mixing together new tempos and sounds. The leader of the group is very much a traditionalist interested only in maintaining the status quo and doing what's always been done and proven to work. Naturally, things come to a head and tensions arise.

The plot itself is very familiar and could be pasted onto many teen/college comedies from the last couple of decades. There are a couple of scenes where Beca is introduced to the movie The Breakfast Club. This seems to sort of be an homage to the fact that Pitch Perfect is heavily borrowing from plot and story points that have been mainstays since John Hughes presented them 3 decades ago.

Where the show shines is in the witty writing and acting of the characters. The writing and directing of this show gives us a barrage of quick little snarky one-off comments mixed with ridiculous situational comedy. Where else do you see a girl laying down in Fat Amy is wonderfully funny in her sarcastic biting comments against everyone. Aubrey is the uptight group leader who is hilariously high strung as she strives for perfection. The group also has a girl who only speaks (and sings) in whispers, a lesbian, and a sexual deviant. Not exactly the mix you might think of for all-american acapella. On the other side of the stage, the girls also have to deal with the college's male acapella group filled with other similar stereotypes and caricatures. Bumper, the leader of the male group, is totally egotistical and yet seems to realize that he's a bit nerdy and on the outside.

The music from the film was pretty good. By its nature, acapella is about covering popular songs, so there wasn't any new music to be had, but there were a number of songs remade in new and unique ways. I've never watched or followed American Idol, Glee or the other various singing shows and competitions so I can't really speak to how this music compared to those, but overall I felt like the music was pretty good. Some of the songs were meant to be satirically bad. Those that tried to be good were actually pretty decent. The soundtrack lists the artists as being "The Treblemakers" (the male group) and "The Barden Bellas" (the female group) so I suspect that the movie actors were involved in a lot of the singing. There are a few songs that specifically call out some of the central actors as the artists. I always think it's fun and interesting to watch and hear actors sing and dance. 50-60 years ago, it was expected that in order to be a good actor, you had to be a "triple threat." That requirement doesn't seem to be there any more so it is fun to see people show they have talent beyond spoken word.

The movie was good fun and entertaining for a rental. It's not something I'll watch over and over but some of the situations and one-liners will make me chuckle if somebody brings me up. The entire soundtrack isn't something I feel like I have to own but we'll probably download a few of the songs from iTunes or Amazon as they are pretty good covers/remixes of song I otherwise enjoy. I doubt this movie will appeal to everybody. It could perhaps be compared to some of the lower tier John Hughes movies. If you're in for some totally cheesy tongue-in-cheek entertainment, it's not a bad choice.

3 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

several of the kids at school have been talking about this...and ted...have seen neither...might pop it on the rental list for a slow night...ha..