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Pitch Perfect

2012 | 112 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Pitch Perfect


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Theatrical release date

 28 September, 2012
 21 December, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Pitch Perfect Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 27, 2012

It’s difficult to believe “Pitch Perfect” was scripted by Kay Cannon, a vastly talented writer who made a name for herself working on “30 Rock,” a job that requires ingenuity, a samurai-sword-sharp sense of humor, and a mathematical understanding of screen timing. Cruelly, “Pitch Perfect” is a glorified episode of “Glee” with a “Family Guy” funny bone, bellyflop displays of improvisation, and a running joke concerning projectile vomiting. At one point, a character even slides around in the soupy stomach contents. Yeesh. Perhaps the target demographic of teenagers and music competition nuts will enjoy themselves wholeheartedly with this bothersome feature, losing themselves in the songs and fatigued silliness, yet “Pitch Perfect” is an unexpectedly lazy effort from a genuinely inspired writer, steamrolling through the world of a cappella in an uncivil manner that doesn’t inspire laughs or induce the chills that typically accompany true vocal power.

Reluctantly attending Barden College to appease her professor father, aspiring D.J. Beca (Anna Kendrick) wants nothing to do with school, hoping to make her way to the L.A. music scene with her mash-up skills. Agreeing to a little campus club participation, Beca joins the Barden Bellas, an a cappella group looking to rebuild their reputation after lead singer Aubrey (Anna Camp) embarrassed the gang with her nervous stomach. Settling into the ragtag squad alongside the likes of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), Beca is frustrated with Aubrey’s tight command of song selection and choreography. Trying to open the Bellas up to new influences, Beca struggles to make herself heard, also dealing with a potential boyfriend in Jesse (Skylar Astin), a kindly member of rival group The Treblemakers, led by arrogant superstar Bumper (Adam DeVine). Facing setbacks and misunderstandings, Beca grows to love the Bellas, battling her own insecurities and aspirations to bring the ladies a championship trophy at a major a cappella showdown.

Television veteran Jason Moore makes his feature-length directorial debut with “Pitch Perfect,” though it doesn’t necessarily stand out as a story worth a cinematic commitment. Crafted like a pilot for a basic cable series, the movie is a straightforward underdog tale using the underworld of a cappella competitions to provide a singular personality worth paying attention to. Adapted from the book by Mickey Rapkin (granting the picture a badge of authenticity as it explores a fringe musical passion), “Pitch Perfect” could’ve been something educational, observing the antagonism and showmanship of college-level a cappella as it grows in prominence across the country, resulting in glitzy contests of harmony and group presentation, capturing the imagination of thousands. Instead, Cannon turns the experience into a pun-drenched sitcom, complete with stereotypes, cartoon villains, and a message of team spirit lifted from the back of a Wheaties box.

With a hackneyed plot of musical redemption, “Pitch Perfect” attempts to offset the staleness of the story with a mischievous sense of humor. Despite their pinch, the jokes fail to elevate the material, most too self-consciously oddball to make much of an impression, though I do give Cannon credit for making a girl with enormous, dark areolas a punchline. That’s a comic direction new to me. The Bellas themselves are a mix of one-dimensions, with sexpot Stacie (Alexis Knapp), silent weirdo Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), lesbian Cynthia (Ester Dean), and, of course, Fat Amy, who’s branded herself with an insult to prevent others from nailing her first. Played with a wandering sense of delivery from acquired taste Wilson, Amy is a cliché Cannon is rabid to exploit, leaning into the weight issue by making the singer treat exercise like punishment and reinforce her identifying quality with repeated gestures to her stomach. We get it, Fat Amy is fat, the quiet Asian is crazy, the one with the shaved head likes girls, the busty girl is slutty, and the alpha Bella keeps a tight-as-torture hairstyle. And we know Beca is an outsider with daddy issues due to her raccoon eyes and headphone interests. Moore might as well make a cartoon with this script.

Further pressure is applied by the improvisational interests of the picture, with Moore basically letting the likes of Wilson and DeVine work with whatever pops into their heads, finding several scenes devoted solely to their comedic impulses. It’s tiring to watch, slowing the movie down to indulge actors who don’t have a reservoir of experience to pull jokes from. There’s also time spent with John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, here playing a cappella television commentators, working through a few snoozy bits, attempting to instill a little Christopher Guest magic into a Ryan Murphy brick.

The music should take center stage with a movie such as “Pitch Perfect,” enjoying a sense of discovery as the Bellas work a new routine of contemporary pop hits and mash-ups, tested throughout the film at practices, bungled performances, and surreptitious “Riff Offs,” held inside empty pools. Sadly, most, if not all of the vocals are pre-recorded, missing the point of a story about live singing by not including a moment of the goosebump-popping stuff. Moore shows no confidence with the music, turning the concert sequences into highly processed music videos of plastic voices, losing the essential ingredient that could power “Pitch Perfect.” Without precious vocal purity, all we’re left with is a lame sense of humor, dark areolas, and a vomit slip ‘n slide.

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Ester Dean, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins
Director: Jason Moore

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