Pitch Perfect is a musical beginning with a performance of Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music.” I figured that would somehow be able to be cleverly worked into a way to dismiss the film. “Yeah, you probably should stop the music,” I thought would be something I’d be able to say about it. Fortunately for both me and for the movie, I’ve had to silence any notion of doing such a thing, because Pitch Perfect ended up being one of the more enjoyable movies I’ve seen this year.
Yes, you did read the right. I didn’t make a typo, and you’re not going insane (although I might be). I really liked this film. If there’s a guilty pleasure movie of 2012 for me, it’ll be this one. Problematically, I’m still not entirely sure why I liked it as much as I did, as it has a large number of elements that seem as if they’d hold it back. A formulaic story, a lack of genuine characters, and being a musical are the big ones. Some people love musicals, sure, but this one has a cover of “Party in the U.S.A.” for crying out loud! I didn’t think I was going to be a fan. I was wrong.
Even if you haven’t seen a single film with this plot, you can see exactly where it’s going. A young, introverted woman named Beca (Anna Kendrick) is being forced into college for a year by her father, even though she dreams of moving to L.A. to become a DJ for the local radio station. She enjoys mixing music and not much else, we find out. Meanwhile, one of the four on-campus a cappella groups is in need of new talent, and after a shower spying session, it’s determined that Beca makes the cut, and should join the team.
However, the team has a dominating leader who only wants to sing songs from the last century, and that’s boring the judges at the competitions. You can see how this free-spirited Beca can bring in some new energy and perhaps change things up, allowing the all-girls group to finally have a chance at winning the big prize. It’s like Stomp the Yard, except with singing and not dancing. And Pitch Perfect is actually enjoyable. That’s a big point, too, I think.
There is a lot of meandering between competitions, which you think might actually build character, but instead just sets up a few funny situations and lets the characters banter with each other. There are a couple of subplots, like the romantic one between Beca and a guy on the rival team, Jesse (Skylar Astin), or when one of the girls gets a career-threatening condition called “nodes,” which allows the film to do its own version of the “I have [something]” group therapy introduction. And then when one character responds with “At least you don’t have herpes. Or do you have that, too?” you can’t help but shake your head and then laugh.
That is where a lot of the humor in Pitch Perfect comes from. This is a very offensive movie to a lot of people. It is sexist, racist, and makes no attempt to be otherwise. There were many exasperated gasps from everyone in the theater, but there was even more laughter once you realize that this isn’t going to stop. It’s not a one-off thing for shock value; it’s how the whole movie is going to be.
And even once you come to that realization, the movie still shocks and surprises you with where it goes in order to be offensive. The only thing that wasn’t targeted was a person’s height, although I might have just forgotten if that was the case. Race, weight, sexuality, gender, hobbies, talent — all of that gets plenty of time to be ripped on by other characters. I laughed more at Pitch Perfect than at any other movie this year, and I felt bad about it. Not enough to condemn the movie — I think it’s almost admirable at how unabashedly hateful it is — but if that’s not your thing, you won’t want to see it.
Do you remember the announcers in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story? They stole the show for me, and we have another case of that here, as Elizabeth Banks (who also produced the film) and John Michael Higgins play the announcing duo for the a cappella competitions. All of them. And it’s a good thing, as they stand out as the highlights with lines that you would never hear from a real announcing team — which might be the point, considering much of the film doesn’t take a cappella that seriously; they may know that nobody’s listening to them and that they can say and do whatever they want.
Yes, even the main subject matter of the film, the thing that we’re supposed to care about more than anything, isn’t safe from writer Kay Cannon and director Jason Moore’s criticism. Beca works well at putting down the a cappella groups, even while finding herself enjoying being a part of one. It’s the Scream of musicals. There is also enough camp to make watching the performances fun, and they’re also energetic that you end up simply finding yourself enjoying them. And a special mention must be made to Rebel Wilson, who is absolutely hilarious at every moment, and should really be given more credit as a comedic actor.
Pitch Perfect is the most off-color movie that it could be while staying in the constraints of a PG-13 rating. I think that many of the children hoping this is the next Glee or High School Musical — both of which get monologues trashing them — will miss most of the jokes, which are clearly intended for older audiences. This is a hateful movie toward pretty much everyone, and that attitude is what endeared it to me. It was hilarious, and the musical aspect, while certainly prominent, fell secondary to the comedy. I liked both parts, and they work well together, so as long as you don’t take jokes too seriously, you should definitely see Pitch Perfect.