At some point during the planning stages of a cappella campus comedy Pitch Perfect, the words “Bridesmaids meets Glee” will have been uttered. A few other words that probably got a look-in include: tie-in soundtrack, Bring It On, young, female, and quadrant. If none of that has you running for the hills, then you may well have a good time with this movie.
Kendrick (her real-life wit and charm belied by the blandness of recent film roles in the likes of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and The Twilight Saga) plays freshman Beca, an alt-gal whose heavy eyeliner, vinyl collection, and closed-off emotions mark her out as different to the chart hit-listening WASPs who recruit her for their a cappella group, the Bellas.
Styled like air hostesses and performing a set-list of cringe-worthy nineties pop, the Bellas are in dire need of an update to have a hope of winning a national a cappella contest. “It’s not enough to be good, we need to be different” says Beca.
Being different means diverting from the group’s previous aesthetic of “eight super-hot girls with bikini-ready bodies” by letting in a fat one, an Asian one, and a butch black lesbian one. It also means edgy Beca ‘remixing’ their set so it includes nineties R&B, Simple Minds and Jessie J. Oh, and Beca plays a cup at one point. An edgy cup.
What follows is a by-the-numbers underdogs plot, with all the concomitant twists, turns, chips-are-down and uplifting comeback moments you’d imagine. At one point, we watch a clip from John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club (Beca’s love interest is a movie nerd) so lengthy it’s hard not to think the editors wanted just a glimpse of humanity to appear on screen, if only one nicked from another, much better teen movie.
Because likeable as its talented cast is, Pitch Perfect’s script throws some awfully mean punches. The film may come wrapped in a Glee-like message of inclusivity and fuzzy female friendship, but it uses otherness as the punch line too often to disguise its intolerance.
It takes the on-paper basics of Bridesmaids – an uptight skinny cow, a funny fat girl, a socially awkward lead, and some gross-out laughs – and reasons that if everybody sings enough mash-ups, no-one will notice it has neither characters, nor much heart.
The entire gag about Rebel Wilson’s character is that she’s fat yet sexually confident, a combination Pitch Perfect finds hilarious enough to repeat ad nauseum. Another character’s laughs are based entirely on her being gay and thus an opportunistic molester of her female friends. One girl is funny because she has a ton of sex, another because she’s soft-spoken and Asian. If the film was aiming for female solidarity, then it lands far wide of the mark.
Where Pitch Perfect does succeed is in the singing, which is great. Kendrick and pals are clearly a talented bunch, though the idea that tunes by Rihanna and French electro weasel David Guetta signify some kind of musical avant-garde is a tough swallow. Had Beca belted out a Diamanda Galas number in her audition, or beat-boxed some Art of Noise in the riff-off, then perhaps her alt-status would have been more convincing.
A nod should also go to Elizabeth Banks, who provides some fun as one half of a pair of a cappella group press pundits. Like the rest of the cast, Banks makes the best of what she’s given. From a script by Kay Cannon – the writer of some of 30 Rock’s funniest episodes – Pitch Perfect feels as if it should have been better, but ended up as somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Were I to be cruel, there’s a snide gag to be made about a film with so many flaws having ‘perfect’ in its title, but judging by the applause at the screening I attended, and by the celebratory reviews Pitch Perfect is receiving elsewhere, it feels as if the joke would be on me.
Pitch Perfect comes out in the UK on the 21st of December.
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