What’s the one thing you need to sing R&B music? The answer, evidently, is “a whole lot of white girls”. Or, at least, that’s what Pitch Perfect gives us, not that this is particularly new for Hollywood. Take the performance-competitive formula of Drumline, You Got Served, and Step Up — not to mention classics like Breakin’ — and mix in the vocal covers from Glee and you get something focus-tested to bring in an audience, but with no assurance that it’ll actually be any good. And when the cast stops singing, the problems start.
A capella singing is a big deal, at least at Barden College, which has singing groups like Wesleyan has LBGTQ organizations. Of course all but two are there as filler gags; the ones that matter are the all-male Treblemakers and the all-female Bellas. The Treblemakers — led by snide douchebag Bumper (Adam DeVine) — are the reigning national champions, while the Bellas crashed and burned in the finals last year. How they even made it is a mystery, since everyone from the competition to the audiences to the announcers (John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) seems to regard them with polite disdain.
But the Bellas lost a lot of graduating seniors, leaving the remaining two — Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow) — to fill in a roster of misfits with voices to replace their preppy forebears. And Chloe’s prize discovery is Becca (Anna Kendrick), an “alternative” girl who would rather be in Hollywood producing remixes and mashups — her talents courtesy of The Outfit — than in college at all.
And then, of course, there’s Jesse (Skylar Astin), who works with Becca at the college radio station and ends up joining the Treblemakers. Not only does he have to overcome her emotional unavailability, but Aubrey’s domineering hatred of the Treblemakers. Although, to be fair, Becca is hardly the only Bella drawn to one of the enemy.
When it comes to the performances, the movie really shines. The cast really do have the pipes — with some post-production, of course — and Deke Sharon’s arrangements are really brilliant at times. But outside of the singing the movie heaves and lurches around awkwardly, trying way too hard for way too few laughs.
Far be it from me to complain about sophomoric humor in a movie aimed at young adults, but Becca’s recruitment and Aubrey’s reaction to stress — among many others — seem like transparent attempts to seem as edgy as PG-13 can get. But Kay Cannon’s script lacks the truly subversive quality that Glee nails in its better episodes.
The canned-quirky Bellas also fall flat. The only one who really crushes it is Rebel Wilson as “Fat” Amy; she is absolutely within her element and a joy to watch. The whisper-quiet Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) showed some promise, but the laughter from previous gags consistently smothered her lines. And then there are Stacie (Alexis Knapp) and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean): promiscuous and butch, respectively, and straight out of Central Casting. And yes, I get the Prince reference; that doesn’t make it all right.
I know that the plot is basically there to get us from one number to another, but it’s so disjointed and unmotivated that there’s almost no point in having it around at all. The dialogue is truly awful, and every time someone makes a music-related pun or adds the prefix “aca-” to a word — even ironically — it feels like a forty-year-old’s idea of how college kids involved in an extracurricular activity talk. Worst of all, there is no chemistry whatsoever between Becca and Jesse, not that they get much time to develop any.
There is one slim ray of hope, though: the soundtrack album is performed by the cast. Buy that and listen to it at home.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.