There's nothing better than when a movie surprises you, and "Pitch Perfect," the giddy-good new competitive a cappella movie, is one of the year's biggest and best surprises. It might not seem like it, but "Pitch Perfect," with its nifty "Bring It On"-meets-"Glee" set-up, could be a sleeper hit for Universal.
We will now run down the pitchy highs and baritone lows of "Pitch Perfect," which hits theaters next Friday, October 5.
PRO: The movie's general "attitude"
Our central character (played winningly by Anna Kendrick, from "Twilight" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World") is a moody aspiring deejay with a cutting wit, and the movie has a prickly edge that nicely compliments its squeaky-clean subject matter. Its roots are in John Hughes coming-of-age comedies and the aforementioned "Bring It On," but it errs on the side of borderline abrasiveness every time, and that, for once, is a very, very good thing.
CON: Structurally, it kind of drags
One of the pleasures of this kind of movie is knowing exactly where it's going to go. You could be forced out of the theater by some airborne illness, come back to your seat twenty minutes later, and know exactly where you are in the narrative. The only time that this kind of charming predictability gets in the way is when it's a little too on-the-nose (and what's more, too long in getting to the point). Do you think the more uptight singers will allow our lead to shake things up by adding her own input? Will they, through coincidence and dumb luck, end up making it to the finals even though they got dismissed earlier? Will our handsome young leads end up in each others' arms? Well, duh. But maybe we could have reached these conclusions a little more swiftly. At 112 minutes, "Pitch Perfect" is a whole lot of fun, it's just that sometimes it feels like too much of it.
PRO: John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks
In a pair of performances that look like they took a total of two days to film, Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins and comic actress Elizabeth Banks (who also produced!) star as a pair of a cappella commentators, and every
line out of their mouths could be framed and hung in my living room. They are absolutely priceless, and add some much needed maturity and giggles to the movie's saggy midsection. The Banks performance, too, seems to acutely
lampoon her persona in the wildly popular "Hunger Games" movie (minus the bad wig and fake eyelashes).
CON: Not enough John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks
The only problem with their performances is that if the movie ever goes too long without them, your first thought is, "Hey, Goober, where are John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks?" They're that good. Still, director Jason Moore
seemed to realize that with these two, it was good to leave the audience wanting more (it causes you to literally hang on their every word, as if you wouldn't have done that already). Man, we loved them.
PRO: The emergence of Brittany Snow, genuine movie star
For years I've watched Brittany Snow -- first on NBC's underrated drama "American Dreams," and then in movies that were clearly beneath her, stuff like teen comedy "John Tucker Must Die" and the abysmal remake of "Prom Night" -- waiting for her to show off that winning mixture of blinding intelligence, wholesomeness and a kind of untapped edge. You saw flashes of it in the musical version of "Hairspray," where Snow played Michelle Pfieffer's bitchy daughter, but in the last couple of years I wondered if her career was over altogether. Thankfully, that doesn't seem to be the case. As the a cappella group's trustworthy second-in-command, Snow sparkles. There's a wonderful scene early on in the movie between Kendrick and Snow in the shower that is so funny and pleasantly awkward, and she acts largely as the movie's center, a charming middle ground between Kendrick's feisty newbie and Anna Camp's dictatorial a cappella capo. "Pitch Perfect" will give you plenty of reasons to smile, but Brittany Snow finally stepping into her movie shoes will have you positively beaming.
PRO: The movie's forward-thinking gender politics
A lot of times, even now, with our gay marriage and black president, teen comedies will fall into tired old gender and ethnic stereotypes, mostly because of laziness and unwillingness to mess with a proven formula. But "Pitch Perfect,"
particularly with its attitude towards gender politics, seems forward thinking in a way that takes you back (in the best possible way). In the scene between Snow and Kendrick in the shower, Snow alludes to a song that Snow masturbates
to (girls masturbate too! Not just sweaty horny nerds! Imagine that!); another character says, about her vagina, "he's a hunter;" and Kendrick, at another point, says something about "her dick." It's really, really wonderful. And this is without even talking about Rebel Wilson, from "Bridesmaids," who steals the show and makes chubbiness more acceptable. "Pitch Perfect" is a movie about girl power that feels actually empowering instead of merely posturing.
CON: Daddy issues
One of the movie's subplots that goes absolutely nowhere concerns the relationship between Kendrick and her father, who is a professor at the fictional Barden college campus. It's one subplot too many, and detracts from things like
the Har Mar Superstar cameo (!) and trying to remember all the funny things that Higgins and Banks said. We understand that her angst has to come from somewhere, and a divorce is a good enough reason as any, but either develop it fully or ditch it altogether. It hangs there in the movie, neither fish nor foul, detracting from the main trust of the plot instead of directing it.
PRO: The singing!
In a movie about competitive collegiate a cappella, a lot rests on the strength of the songs (which, it should be noted, borrow heavily from the Universal Music collection… Weird…). Thankfully, "Pitch Perfect" doesn't disappoint. It sticks
with the standard a cappella mash-up mode, mixing old songs with new into a kind of instantly recognizable, impossibly catchy bouillabaisse. It's very easy to see "Pitch Perfect" becoming a slumber party favorite, with young girls belting out the hits along with the movie's characters.
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