Reviews: Pitch Perfect

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The first thing that strikes me about Pitch Perfect is its protagonist. There is something off about Anna Kendrick that I can't quite put my finger on. She's so eerily bland as a singer, actress and personality, with an almost alien quality that only comes from wax works replicas of people. I'm not sure she's a good choice to lead a movie.

Pitch Perfect is yet another take on the team underdog movie we have seen a hundred times before. This movie stands out though in how much they bungle this rote formula. For instance, early on the movie establishes this flamboyant jerk leader of the rival band as the villain. But unlike other movies, he doesn't come across as any more mean spirited or snooty as any of the hero's plucky under-dog team. Also, he gets replaced and completely disappears, two thirds into the movie. It makes me wonder why he was even in the film in the first place if they weren't going anywhere with him.

The movie is full of weird quirks like that - subplots that don't really have arks, such as some geeky guy who wants to get on an acappella team, and does later (oh, okay), or a careful set up for a love triangle that never actually happens. Normally, these underdog movies have a big reason for why such a dysfunctional group needs to compete in a professional tournament, however no reason whatsoever is given in Pitch Perfect other than "We really want to win this time". There is a thing about how Anna Kendrick's character's dad won't fund her desired career if she doesn't join a club (any club), but all that does is make you wonder, why stick with the most hostile, petty and bitchy club around? Consequently, there is utterly no dramatic tension or pay off. There always has to be an orphanage that needs the prize money, otherwise who cares?

Plotting aside, how about the most important thing, The music? Eh, it wasn't too my taste. Outside of the finale, most of the songs lean towards more recent tunes that I don't particularly know or care for. In one scene, Kendrick does the cup song, which only made me angry because her version has obscured the (much better) arrangement made by the band she borrowed it from. This isn't a movie made for me though, it is made for the likes of my wife. Her summary? "Eh, there are no good looking guys in this." Pffff.
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Two Keys To Staying in Tune
1) People Singing Together Is A Really Happy Activity

When you rewatch Pitch Perfect it can be kind of a mystery why we want the Barden Bella's to succeed at all. Sure Anna Kendrick is super charasmatic, but she seems happy doing her own thing and chasing other goals. And for the most part the Bella's are an incredibly dysfunctional group who we know almost nothing about. It would be easier to think they'd be happier if they weren't together, but you don't feel like that for some reason.

And it's really as simple as a song. Before or after every low point in the film, there's a scene of the Bella's spontaneously singing together, not in contest, but because they're all sharing in something happy that they love.

Tyrannical training montage? Immediately followed up by everyone forgetting the riff-off and singing Anna Kendricks song. About to break-up? Preceded by a sing-a-long in the bus.

There's something just pure happiness about people choosing to sing together just for fun. And Pitch Perfect 1&2 understand this perfectly and use it to smooth over all the bumps in the narrative. These moments are literally all the driving motivation in the films, but it's all there needs to be.

2) It's Really About Aubrey

It might not look like it, but Pitch Perfect 1 is Aubrey's story, the leader of the Bella's. I don't think the script even meant it to be that way, but Anna Camp is such a good actor in this film that she ends up making it about her.

You can see every beat of the film in Aubrey's expressions. Disdain, surprise, happiness-in-spite-of-herself fear... She's meant to be an obstacle for Anna Kendrick to overcome, but instead it becomes a redemption story for her strange mix of perfect posture control with insecurity and the film becomes about her learning to be a more happy person.

Most of the narrative threads in PP 1 are pretty weak, but Aubrey's becomes the spine that keeps everything going. If you want to see them succeed because of the fun when they sing, Audbrey shows you what the success is.

And this is where Pitch Perfect 2 flounders a little, it's songs are amazing and capture the pure fun of the first film. They easily make it worth watching, but Aubrey is relegated to a cameo and whilst they have a lot of plot threads, no-one really steps into her role to tie it all together.
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Pitch Perfect 2
Pitch Perfect 2 is a movie roughly just as good as the first. Better? Probably not, it's on the same level, but nothing particularly made me think it was better than the first. That doesn't mean it's bad, as I found the movie heavily enjoyable and would recommend it to those who had seen the first movie.

The good is that the main cast returns, and you can tell they clearly love what they're doing. The songs are terrific and put to a good use of the acapella, and the guest film stars are quite good (special mention to Katey Segal who's only in three scenes but has a fun character, David Cross, and even Snoop Dogg manages to leave a memorable scene with his unknown duet with Beca being one of the films music highlights). The humor is strong, and Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins once again steal the film every time they're on screen. I'm surprised at how little Bumper annoyed me, given that he was such a jerk and an (intentional) pain in the first film (the scene with Amy singing dramatically towards him as she paddles across the lake on a boat is one of my favorite scenes).

Not to say the movie doesn't have problems, because it does. I take it we're meant to find Benji adorable and endearing but his entire romance with Emily just seemed annoying, with his bumbling over lines just at the sight of her being tedious to watch. Of their real on stage performance, the Bellas screw up continuously until the big finale, which is a shame because the on stage ones are one of the best. The character of Flo exists to make numerous racist jokes, and it barely got a chuckle from the audience I watched it with. I'm not sure how I feel on Emily. She seems like a reverse Beca, given how Beca was incredibly reluctant to join the Bellas, Emily is incredibly eager to join as her mother (played by Segal) was once a member herself. Also, as much as I love John Michael Higgins, his character can get tiring with the numerous misogynist jokes which I know we're not supposed to find that hilarious, but still tick me off.

Also in all, it's a good film, and most of the complaints can be bypassed if you're loyal to the first Pitch Perfect. Given how the movie ends with most of the Bellas graduating, I wonder if any sequels will focus on the graduates or Emily and a fresh batch of Bellas.
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