Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pitch Perfect

There's a buoyant, girl power charm to Pitch Perfect, an acapella mixing of Bring it On and Mean Girls.  Set in a college where the fringe, all vocal without instrumental accompaniment, is the hottest ticket, there's a nicely packaged let's-put-on-a-show desire in director Jason Moore (Tony-nominated for Avenue Q) displays that deserves affection in it's crowd-pleasing aplomb.  There's also a feeling, not uncommon from an episode of Glee, where one might find themselves saying, okay, just shut up and sing.  The spectacles of the stage are the shining moments, where the characters-- many interchangeable-- let it out, and like in moments in life where a silly pop song has that nifty way of channeling either something personal or searing, Pitch Perfect lives close to its name.  Otherwise, it's an uneven, at times cringe-worthy, collection of awkward vignettes framed and pre-sold to the tween CW crowd.  Make no mistake, there's some funny one-liners and a few great sight gags that keep everything moving sprightly enough, but there's a tonal lack of focus and a by-the-numbers formula that keeps the film grounded from being the great crowd-pleasing song and dance film it is so eagerly striving for.  Shut up and sing....

Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an above it all college freshman, giving a free meal ticket to Barden University by way of her estranged professor father, but all she wants to do is mix tracks.  So inside her headphones, she neglects and rejects studies, potential suitors or friends.  That is until the school's all-girl acapella group scouts her.  Kendrick is certainly a gifted performer, a Tony-nominated actor for her supporting role in the musical High Society (her rendition of "The Ladies Who Lunch" in 2004's Camp is a winningly bitchy), but her sour-puss routine starts to becomes tired way before anyone in the film starts to call her out on it.  Her drama includes a requisite father-daughter abandonment issues, a sweet dork named Jesse (Skylar Astin) who pines for her, and a group of talented misfit singers, called the Barden Belles, who need her.  Had Beca lightened up way before curtain time, Pitch Perfect would have been a lot more fun-- character depth need not apply for a film that's so desperate to achieve affection.

The Belles themselves have something of a misfortune to overcome.  The year prior, at the national finals at Lincoln Center, head Belle, Aubrey (Anna Camp) embarrassed her peers with a gross presentation of nerves.  A year later, Aubrey, alongside co-head Belle, Chloe (Brittany Snow) strive to come back, while maintaining the faithful tradition of the Belles-- their longtime nemesis come from the all boys choir from the same school, the Treblemakers; Beca's drama doubles when Jesse becomes a member.  The Belles, in crisis, recruit what they can, including a flamboyant Brit dubbed by herself as Fat Amy (Bridesmaids' Rebel Wilson), as well as a cast of misfits that seemingly pose little threat.  It's when Beca clashes and mixes up the tradition of the Belles that they, predictably, if only seemingly narratively improbably, find their voice.

I may snark too much, for parts of Pitch Perfect are as smooth as easy listening, and jell on the silly footnotes of a punchy script.  When something is off, the film flints away and moves with a wistful tune.  For every misstep, or disgraceful cue, there's a song around the corner that flirts with a joyful tune, for every girls behaving badly fail, there's a zippy one liner to the rescue, and for every gross, awkward turn, there's Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, playing acapella announcers to spike an ironically zinger.  For like a stupid, silly pop song, Pitch Perfect, while far from, moves swift enough for one to forget it flaws rather easily.  B-

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