Movie review: 'Pitch Perfect' hits the right notes

“Pitch Perfect”


Brownstone Productions (III)

1 hour, 52 minutes

Arnold Schwarzenegger made his triumphant return to the screen as a leading man in this weekend’s action-on-the-border shoot ‘em up “The Last Stand,” but alas, the Governator didn’t get my ten bucks. Not because I’m particularly opposed to him or to action-on-the-border shoot ‘em ups, but mostly because the timing to go to a movie didn’t work out very well, and this wasn’t the film I was willing to move heaven and earth to go see.

Instead I decided to rent one that I had skipped last year, much to my chagrin. “Pitch Perfect,” the ode to, and simultaneous send up of, college competition a cappella, doesn’t necessarily live up to it’s name, but as a diverting evening of easy laughs, it hits all the right notes.

Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a college freshman who is too smart and too removed to be even remotely interested in any of the people around her. It’s not college she wants, it’s L.A., where she can take her proclivity to create fresh beats on her laptop full of music editing software and make it big.

To be honest, I was never exactly sure what Beca was doing on her laptop. Was she making new music? Was she making mash-ups of other people’s music? She was constantly making playlists for her college radio DJ boss, but what they consisted of, I couldn’t tell you. I’m sure my younger, hipper, music-oriented friends could set me straight.

At one point Beca’s square dad, who actually wants her to try and make something of this college thing, cajoles her into cruising the campus activities fair, where we get to witness all the individual groups that our heroine is, indeed, too cool for. At the top of that list is the Barden Bellas, an all-girl a cappella group that has struggled to find its footing. Of course, it’s hard to achieve success when your soloist projectile vomits all over the front row. This, as if I had to say so, was one of the low points of the film. That aside, Beca eventually joins the group, makes friends, learns to, if not love, at least appreciate a cappella, and eventually saves the day by bringing together the group’s inherent singing ability with her quirky pop music sensibility.

No one could accuse “Pitch Perfect” of being particularly unique, and if its plot and the vomiting scene were the whole thing, I would have probably turned it off. What makes the movie, however, are the energetic musical numbers, which, if you’re a fan of “Glee” you’ll certainly recognize, and the funny individual performances, especially from the, by now, widely applauded Rebel Wilson.

Wilson, who plays Fat Amy, the group’s oddest oddball, is hilarious. What I appreciated about Amy is that she never takes the expected route to get where the script want her to go. Typically this character’s arc goes like this. She’s fat. She’s sassy. She’s funny. She anchors the group, and in the third act it’s revealed that her persona is all just armor to protect the poor sensitive girl inside from the cruel world. In this film, they get all that out in the first sentence. “Why do you call yourself Fat Amy?” asks Aubrey, the skinniest and blondest of the Barden Bellas. “So you bitches can’t do it first,” replies Amy, matter-of-factly, without a hint of sympathy or bitterness. And that’s it. The movie never wallows in her personal issues again — from then on she’s just allowed to be funny.

Aside from Wilson, the performances are average. Kendrick plays Beca with a little too much aloofness, like she’s trying too hard. She’s a good young actress and, as evidenced by her performance in “Up in the Air,” she should have a strong career ahead of her. Her work in “Pitch” isn’t bad, just not stellar.

The rest of the group is made up of a series of personality quirks masquerading as characters — the sex-starved one, the lesbian, the mousy one who turns out to be a closet freak. I didn’t mind that so much, though. This isn’t the kind of movie where I really need to care about more than one or two.

I’m now glad I didn’t go see this movie in theaters, though it was certainly better than the movie I skipped it for — “Taken 2.” After all, this is the perfect on-the-couch-before-bed kind of movie. I felt no urgency to finish it in one sitting, and when it was over I was pleasantly amused and a little surprised. I didn’t particularly care about Beca or her troupe, but they kept my interest for a while, and I liked the songs and musical performances quite a bit. I like “Glee,” though, and I think if you were a “Glee”-hater, you might have a different take-away on this film.

In the end, “Pitch Perfect” is a nice, mid-level B-movie, where you’re not dying for it to end, but you’re not sad when it does.

Grade: B-

“Pitch Perfect” is blissfully rated PG-13, meaning lots of innuendo, but no real raunch. Language and adult themes, with crude humor thrown in. R-rated comedies are really starting to wear me down.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff.