How good can a film be if it relies on a single element to sustain itself? Pitch Perfect attempts to answer that question by being about collegiate a cappella singers.
Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) arrives as a new freshman at Barden University. Her ambition is to become a radio disc jockey in Los Angeles. However, her father, a literature professor at Barden, forces her to attend school for a year. Early in the semester, Beca is recruited into the Barden Bellas, an all-female a cappella group striving to become the national collegiate a cappella champions. Unfortunately, the ladies must deal with differences between themselves, as well as their rival group – the Barden Treblemakers.
The characters in the Bellas are largely one note archetypes – Beca the rebellious one, Aubrey the uptight and domineering leader of the Bellas (Anna Camp), Chloe the nicer but more timid co-leader of the Bellas (Brittany Snow), Patricia the fat one who calls herself “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson), Stacie the sex fiend (Alexis Knapp), Cynthia-Rose the token black woman who also happens to be a lesbian (Ester Dean), etc. Similarly, the Treblemakers are made of bland characters like Bumper the narcissistic leader (Adam DeVine) and Jesse the nice guy (Skylar Astin). Thankfully, there are a couple of characters that I do find enjoyable despite their blandness, being Beca and Jesse.
The story of Pitch Perfect, courtesy of a screenplay by Kay Cannon, is highly formulaic, being the typical underdog story about a ragtag group who overcomes their differences and their bitter rivals to claim glory. Ironically, the film also does part of my job for me in that it points out how endings in films are predictable. There is also a romance subplot between Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin that feels largely clunky and dull.
The comedy in Pitch Perfect is exceptionally awkward. Much of Rebel Wilson’s humor revolves around fat jokes and pratfalls. Ester Dean and Alexis Knapp’s jokes are based solely on sexuality. There’s also a wannabe Treblemaker named Benji (Ben Platt) who is prevented from joining because he is deemed too weird due to his obsession with magic. Additionally, there is a pair of announcers played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins who deliver a lot of random comments, likely gleaned from simply pointing a camera at them and allowing them to ad lib. Unfortunately, many of these jokes are not funny and are rather uncomfortable to hear. The primary humor that does work are sarcastic one-liners from Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin.
The biggest success that Pitch Perfect brings is its central focus on music. The music and singing performances in the film are excellent. Watching the various groups square off and battle each other is a joy to watch. It is also in these performance sections that director Jason Moore gets to show off his talents as a director of musicals. I would recommend highly checking out this film’s fantastic soundtrack. In all honesty, the strength of the music elevates the film and saves it from being a total disaster.
Pitch Perfect is a cinematic experience that lives and dies by the single element that it does very well. The music and singing are wonderful. Anna Kendrick also turns in a good performance that anchors the film. If only the characters and story were as strong as the musical element.
All in all, this isn’t a bad film per se. I would recommend checking it out if you love musicals or if it’s not something you have to go out of your way to see. Otherwise, just look into the soundtrack on its own because that’s really all you need.