Awful lot of reviews around here lately, huh? The Tuesday Zone has admittedly been a bit too focused on some Oscar-y movies. So now it’s back to the romcoms, with a movie that came out this year and got surprisingly good reviews.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
Plot: Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a college freshman that has ambitions of going to L.A. and being a DJ. She broods a lot because her roommate sucks but ultimately joins an all-girl a cappella group. She tries to help them move out of the past, musically, and stop being a bunch of weirdos, socially, so that they can go to Nationals and beat their all-guy rival group from the same school.
The summary makes Pitch Perfect sound slightly like Glee: The Movie, but I promise you it’s more than that. How, you might wonder? Well, I won’t bore you with things like evidence, but I will say that Pitch Perfect has Anna Kendrick.
Sorry, is that not enough for you? Well, this movie is different, but not necessarily in great ways. It tries really hard to be like Bridesmaids, which tried really hard to be like The Hangover. Instead of having its own identity, it tries to mimic other successes (and failures). Bridesmaids had a lot of fantastic humor and characterization, but it felt the need to have raunchy and moronic humor for no other reason than it wanted to be a raunchy comedy. Pitch Perfect has some interesting moments and really fantastic songs, but it also has a lot of missteps because it doesn’t understand its own strengths.
I guess now I can give some examples. The main thing I noticed was a gross misunderstanding of character. The only consistent character is the primary antagonist Bumper (Adam DeVine), who is consistently a huge prick.
I’m not trying to say that characters can’t change, but there’s a difference between having a character develop and having him or her do something that doesn’t make sense given what we know about them. Almost every character in this movie does something completely random for the sake of a joke or furthering the plot.
For instance, Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin) have a back-and-forth, pseudo-relationship develop throughout the movie. However, discord is sewn when Beca continually pushes Jesse away merely because she doesn’t like opening up to people. Still, Jesse pushes to be with her and finds ways to make her open up. Then, in a vulnerable moment, Beca shows up at Jesse’s door and admits some wrong-doing. He promptly tells her she doesn’t open up to people and then slams the door on her.
Why the hell would he do that? He wants her to open up and claims to be really interested in her, yet as soon as she does open up, he gets all pissy? He hasn’t acted out once before this moment. It makes no sense and only exists to add tension. Pitch Perfect pulls this shit all the time. I’m not even nit-picking; if a movie constantly has its characters act contrary to the way we’ve seen them behave up until those points, then it’s distracting and frustrating.
There’s also a huge reliance on tropes and cliches, which isn’t a deal-breaker, but they’re not the typical, bearable ones like having the Big Competition at the end. One main grievance is “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson) who tries to be some kind of empowering figure, but instead is the same exact character as Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. We’re meant to laugh because she’s self-deprecating and completely, unabashedly open. In theory this is a brave portrayal, because most characters in romantic comedies are beautiful unless their average looks is a plot point. Yet the only reason Fat Amy is fat is because the writers needed jokes. This isn’t brave writing; it’s cheap. Melissa McCarthy’s performance, while not perfect, was at least somewhat fresh. This is redundant. Rebel Wilson supposedly made up most of her lines, but none of them have any other point than, “I’m atypical! Ha-ha-ha!” She certainly embodies the character, but the character is entirely extraneous.
This is all disappointing because there are so many stand out moments in this movie. One scene I like in particular is when Beca and Jesse are having a picnic. He suggests they watch a movie, but she claims not to like any. She says all the endings are predictable.
Beca: They’re predictable, like the guy gets the girl, and that kid sees dead people, and Darth Vader is Luke’s father.
Jesse: Oh, right, so you just happened to guess the biggest cinematic reveal in history?
Beca: “Vader” in German means “father”. [NOTE: This isn’t actually true, but bear with me.] His name is literally “Dark Father.”
Jesse: Huh. So you know German. Well, now I know why you don’t like fun things.
Moments like this are actually fairly adorable and the writing is, in my opinion, quite good. It advances the characters and has a bit of humor. Moreover, this leads to them watching The Breakfast Club, which the writers use to great effect with one of the better payoffs I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. These scenes make the bad parts so much worse by contrast.
Then you have scenes where, much like in Bridesmaids, the writers felt the need to be disgusting for no other reason than to go, “Ha! Look! Gross!” These scenes totally take away from the positives of the story and remind us that there are way better movies that have the decent characterization and writing without gross-out humor, or movies that have the gross-out humor but use it successfully. So why include these moments at all? There’s something to be said for breaking genre, but not when it’s pointless.
One last scene that I feel obligated to discuss is when Beca is confronted by Chloe (Brittany Snow), one of the leaders of the a cappella group that wants her to join. Beca is taking a showering and singing, which makes Chloe burst in and claim she has a great voice. She tries to make her sing again, but Beca is massively uncomfortable, namely because a completely nude woman is standing there trying to force her to sing while she is also naked. Beca tries to make her go away but Chloe won’t move, effectively trapping Beca in a corner as she tries to cover herself with the shower curtain. After a lot of persuasion, Beca eventually sings because Chloe has made it clear that she won’t leave otherwise.
If I’m not being clear by my description, I think this scene is incredibly rape-y. I know that’s a very harsh and loaded term to throw around, but think about if Chloe were a male? People would be up in arms about this. It’s not funny or clever, just uncomfortable and weird.
Pitch Perfect isn’t a terrible movie by any means. It’s fairly enjoyable most of the time, in fact, but it’s also infuriating because it could have been so damn good. This should be an example to all screenwriters of how not to soil a good script. Recognize your strengths, understand your characters, and feel free to go outside your genre a bit, but don’t do so without reason. Also, don’t include creepy shower scenes where one character forces someone else to do something for them under the threat of refusing to leave.