'Pitch Perfect': Elizabeth Banks-produced comedy's high and low notes
From the hum of excitement in the packed theater, you’d think I was at one of the first screenings of The Hunger Games or The Avengers, not the college a cappella flick Pitch Perfect. Universal’s gambit to move up the film’s release date with a week-long limited run was a smart one. The “very engaged core audience avidly anticipating [the film’s] release” put its money where its mouth was last night. As a liberal arts grad and (casts down eyes) former a cappella groupie, I had to face facts: I am that core audience. (WARNING: Mild spoilers follow.)
Now, it’s been a long time since I listened to doop-dooping, four-part harmonized renditions of “Take On Me” with wide-eyed, unironic pleasure. So when I first saw Pitch Perfect‘s trailer, I was beyond skeptical: Why are a bunch of recognizable late 20-somethings playing college kids? How did they get an Oscar nominee to anchor a Glee rip-off? Why does this movie exist — at all? The second time I saw the trailer, I was already wearing down. And then, there I was last night — buzzing (okay, squealing) alongside the other opening night attendees. At least I managed to grab an actual seat unlike the poor schlubs lining the walls in the back.
The thing about Pitch Perfect is that it knows where it stands. Sure, the film delights in the shorthand of the genre flick — the fact that you know Anna Kendrick’s Beca is a rebel because of her bracelets, smudgy eyeliner, and tattoos, and the familiar clique round-up (with a post-Glee a capppella twist). But it also takes itself with utmost seriousness. Early in the movie Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a.k.a. McLovin) cameos as the leader of Barden College’s a cappella auditions (more on them later), telling the aca-wannabes, “This s— is real life.” To enjoy Pitch Perfect, you can’t watch from a distance. You’ve got to embrace the clichés whole-heartedly, set aside cynical snickering, and go all-in on a world where a cappella commentators actually exist (producer Elizabeth Banks and the unfailingly hilarious John Michael Higgins), where vocal nodes are a weep-inducing death sentence, and where 8 Mile-style riff-offs are a valid way of sussing out sexual aca-politics. Considering the moviegoers at my theater let out more hoots and applause than the ones at an opening weekend screening of Magic Mike I attended in Chelsea with Mandi Bierly, it’s safe to say Pitch Perfect knows its audience.
— Mean Girls was fetch. Bring It On introduced the cheertatorship. Pitch Perfect has its aca lingo. It shouldn’t work, but it turned out pretty aca-awesome. See also: Pitch-slapped and toner — a musical boner. (Though, as my colleague Denise Warner pointed out, why was this film not called Pitch, Please? Missed connection!)
— How many audition sequences have we seen in these types of movies? Can you even count that high? Well, I’m here to tell you this one made the old standby feel fresh again. Set to Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” it arranged the singers in a clever a cappella tapestry that simultaneously landed laughs and showed off their talents.
— Rebel Wilson is getting plenty of (well-deserved) credit for stealing yet another movie with her un-PC turn as Fat Amy, but Hana Mae Lee as a seemingly quiet singer named Lily with lots of secrets was the aca-standout for me; and Banks in a decidedly anti-Effie Trinket role delivered the most gut-busting lines. Example: “Nothing makes a woman feel like a girl more than a man who sings like a boy.”
— I didn’t think I’d ever be able to ring another ounce of resonance out of The Breakfast Club, which I’ve seen approximately 1,372 times, but an act-three musical number featuring the film’s iconic theme was poignant and powerful.
— Not much to say here. The movie was overall aca-mazing, but there is one ongoing gross-out gag — that I won’t spoil because it’s fairly pivotal — involving bodily dysfunctions that brought down the level of humor markedly.
— The most disappointing part of my Pitch Perfect experience, hands down, was that there was not more of it. If ever there was a missed opportunity to spice up the credits, this was it. I know they’re probably saving the bloopers for the DVD, but where was my show-stopping musical number? What in the aca-hella?
What about you, PopWatchers? Have you seen Pitch Perfect yet?