I see so many movies every month I couldn't possibly write a review for every single one. When I get around to putting pen to paper, I have to think if I have anything to say about a film and then decide which to write about. Oddly, every time I think about writing reviews for the current crop of films, I forget that I have seen "Pitch Perfect", the new film starring Anna Kendrick ("Twilight", "Up in the Air") as the newest member of an all-female college acapela club.
I'm not sure why that is. "Pitch" is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. A lot of it works, there are many laughs, some of the music is very good. But I think that for almost every good thing, there is an equally noticeable problem.
Kendrick, ready to break free from brooding vampires, headlines as Beca, a brooding freshman attending Borden University. She is going to college because her dad is a professor there and insists she give it a try before heading to Los Angeles to make it big as a DJ peddling her mash-ups. She soon discovers the Borden Bellas, an all-female acapela group fighting their way back to Nationals after a disastrous performance the previous year. Beca joins the group and pushes her mash-ups; she is all about trying something new, something different.
The new head of the group, Aubrey (Anna Camp, TV's "The Good Wife", "Mad Men", "The Help") wants to maintain the group's traditional ways and songs. Her right hand, Chloe (Brittany Snow, "Hairspray (2007)", TV's "Harry's Law") is more on the fence, but gives in to her friend's pressure to remain tried and true.
Because of the Bella's recent performance and graduating seniors, they have to start from scratch and bring in an entirely new team. They find a black lesbian, a promiscuous girl, a shy, demure Asian girl, a couple of less distinctive and less interesting girls and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson, "Bridesmaids"). In other words, they find characters defined by a single characteristic, making them stereotypes. With one exception.
Rebel Wilson is a stand-out as the self-proclaimed Fat Amy. Her jokes and funny bits zig zag back and forth between self-deprecating humor and jokes others make about her. You can tell the jokes made by others sting a little, but she is also used to them, aware of them, and has learned to recover from them very quickly. And her self-deprecating humor is a form of armor, protection from the mean-spiritedness of others.
The Bella's rivals, an all-male acapela group, are currently number #1. They do modern stuff and never repeat a song, leading them to enjoy a lot of success. Jesse (Skylar Astin) and Benji (Ben Platt), two roommates and new students, both want to join, but Jesse is chosen. He also has eyes for Beca.
You can probably connect many of the dots and guess many of the jokes.
Elizabeth Banks, one of the film's producers, appears with John Michael Higgins (TV's "Happily Divorced", "Best in Show", "The Ugly Truth") as the television hosts of the Nationals. These roles are pretty much the exact role Higgins has played many times before, in "Best of Show", "For Your Consideration", usually with Jane Lynch in a film written and directed by Christopher Guest. It was a funny bit the first time, but each time it is repeated it becomes less interesting and even a little annoying. Now, it just appears tired and recycled.
This brings me to my big complaint about "Perfect". The filmmakers seem to reach the limit of their abilities after the few good things and fill in the blanks with recycled material. The bits with Higgins and Banks stand out like a sore thumb. And because she is one of the Producers, it seems like she could've, should've said "this seems very familiar. How can we take this somewhere new?" But she didn't and it just seems so similar. There should almost be a cliché named for these characters. The snarky co-hosts. Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones even did a variation on this bit, but with more sarcasm, in "The Hunger Games". The additional level of snarkiness makes it a fitting addition to the futuristic survival tale. It makes it a little more interesting and brings a slightly different slant to the rote idea.
Also, there seem to be a lot of missed opportunities. Beca and Jesse both go to work at the college radio station, a story idea meant to force them to spend a lot of time together, forcing them to deal with their growing attraction. But the station is run by a hunky British DJ. (Freddie Stroma, the "Harry Potter" films) who doesn't really seem to serve any purpose what so ever. He doesn't even do the most clichéd thing imaginable and cause Jesse to become jealous.
All of the supporting characters amount to little more than stereotypes. There is so much opportunity to explore a little more of these characters that it seems a shame everything is reduced to a simple one-liner. Very often, the one-liner is repeated.
The music is quite good. Kendrick and her female counterparts seem ready to break out of their mold at any point, held back only by Aubrey's insistence on tradition. There are a number of occasions when they aren't competing, allowing Beca more leeway and she breaks out into a modern song. But every time they go to competition, it is the same old, same old. The male group, the more polished performers, more willing and able to take chances and perform new material, seem more modern and daring. Their songs also provide a nice counterpoint to the more formal, old-fashioned arrangements of the Bellas. You know the Bellas will eventually change their routing and when they do, the performance is pretty great.
As good as the music is, it doesn't really do anything better than a good episode of "Glee". When the television show if firing on all cylinders, the musical performances are memorable, the characters explore real emotions and real problems, and this might provide some genuinely moving moments. Granted, this seems to be happening less frequently this season, but it does happen.
Ultimately, "Pitch" doesn't separate itself enough from a good episode of "Glee" to make it worth spending $13 for a full-price ticket. Bargain matinee, sure.