'Pitch Perfect' Is Pitchy
Glenn Kenny Special to MSN Movies
The opening scene of this movie depicts the finals of a collegiate a cappella singing competition, held at Lincoln Center. So the audience is ready for something out of "Glee," or a "Joyful Noise," or some such piece of feel-good musical-comedy entertainment that earns enough of a profit to generate direct or indirect spin-offs. OK then. Except then there's the presence of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, as in-booth color commentators on the proceedings (they talk over the singing, which strikes one as counterproductive), and they're laying on the (admittedly funny) snark, observing, say, of falsetto-singing fellows that "nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy." OK then, maybe this movie's going to be more like "A Mighty Wind," a kind of parody/spoof of a rarefied subculture. Then one of the a cappella singers, suffering an attack of nerves, projectile vomits onto the audience. OK then. It's a gross-out collegiate romp.
"Pitch Perfect" ends up being all three, and more. But it never ends up being anything like a fully realized version of any of the movies it's lifting its jokes and/or tones from. In a way, it's a pretty dispiriting reflection of moviemaking by studio committees in contemporary cinema in that there's no seeming concern for coherence or believability or any such thing as the movie flits from sex joke to sassy musical number to hackneyed observation on what's "edgy" versus what's not (the movie's perky protag, played by perky Anna Kendrick, is a wannabe music producer whose passion is for that paragon of outsider-art endeavor, the "mashup").
The finish line: That the a cappella girl group -- that Kendrick reluctantly joins in order to enhance her collegiate experience -- get back into the finals of that aforementioned singing competition is so clearly delineated from the very start that it's not even particularly shameless that this movie outright lifts a plot device from "Joyful Noise" in order to make that happen. It's not as if the plot twist in question was ever anything to write home about. In between, there is intermittent amusement from Kendrick (who apparently had some sort of contractual obligation to wear scoop-topped décolletage-revealing blouses/leotards for the run of the shoot), oversize funny lady Rebel Wilson and a few other funny performers. If you're befuddled by the fact that a running joke is made out of the fact that one of the girls in the a cappella group is literally inaudible at all times, because why would she have made it into the group in the first place, you clearly haven't been paying attention to the ways that this picture just doesn't care. And the moviemakers are betting that the audience won't care either, and it's arguably true that audiences tend to care/not care about the darnedest things these days. What are you going to do, as I tend to ask rather often lately.
And so: The projectile vomit jokes persist, an unusual rendition of "No Diggity" is proffered, and the male protagonist is so affronted by Kendrick's inability to commit that he actually dumps her before they've even so much as made out. So I guess I learned that college kids are different now than they were in my day. I'm glad to have had my day.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film
critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various
publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He
lives in Brooklyn.