It is my estimation that there are very few people on the fence about seeing a movie about the universe of college a capella. The people who want to see this movie would all but kill to do so on the other hand, there are those who'd rather endure a three-hour documentary on the referendum to criminalize the distribution of lead-based paints. I was hardly in the latter category upon approaching Pitch Perfect. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the seasonal performances of my college's championship-winning a capella group, the Binghamton Crosbys (namedrop). I would happily welcome an influx of musical films to mainstream Hollywood. I really, really liked the first season of Glee. I say all this to illustrate how open to the idea of Pitch Perfect I was, and how much I really wanted to like the movie. Unfortunately, as I would reluctantly acknowledge not long into the picture, Pitch Perfect was missing many of its marks. Not all, but many.
The movie touts itself not as Glee: The Movie, as many on the opposing side are likely to deem it, but as something far more self-aware. There are a handful of jokes about the rigid containment of the a capella world's celebrity, with remarks that all the authentically cool kids at the central Barden University exist beyond the confines of the a capella community. Unfortunately, while it strives to adopt a self-deprecating attitude toward the tropes of the genre, it draws the line at the rejection of the more hackneyed elements of its romantic and interpersonal storylines.
While the story is based in the always-worth-revisiting "be yourself" underdog theme, it doesn't quite execute this idea with full force. The highly talented Anna Kendrick plays Beca, a "rebellious" aspiring deejay, enticed into the nearly defunct Barden Bellas by well-meaning vet Chloe (Brittany Snow) due to her natural skill for singing, but disliked by queen bee Aubrey (Anna Camp) for being just a little too different. But in all honesty, she's hardly different enough to evoke our sympathies. In fact, the only outstanding characteristics Beca seems to have is that she's pretty self-entitled, and always a little bit miffed. Still, she's the apple of everyone's eye, including the guileless, flimsy male lead Jesse (Skylar Astin), who himself is a cherished new member of Barden's rival a capella group, the all-male Treblemakers led by the wickedly obnoxious top dog Bumper (Adam DeVine). Beca and Jesse are meant to found the real emotional crust of the movie; he teaches her about the greats of cinematic soundtracks, and about not pushing people away, and she... well, she doesn't really teach him about anything. Their relationship lacks the real substance that would effectively carry the film, based primarily on the fact that they're both cute and microscopically off-center.
And then there are the supporting characters the Bellas' team of misfits whom we're meant to love. Rebel Wilson leads this pack as the kooky, brazen, self-decreed Fat Amy. Beside her, the sexually-charged Stacie (Alexis Knapp), the quiet psychopath Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), whose alluded homosexuality is, quite unfortunately, the punchline of her character, among a few faceless sub-supporting characters. And while the theme does don a sheath of the classic "be yourself" mindset, it seems to be more interested in poking fun of these girls and their quirks than it is in celebrating them.
But they do band together, they do develop a camaraderie, and they do come to compromise their differences in order to better one another and the team. And then comes the final musical number.
See, for all of the film's faults, there is something it knows how to do: it puts on one hell of a show. As much of a cynical nitpicker as you might be, once the Bellas' final performance on the competition mainstage takes way, you're bound to enjoy it. Showcasing the individual vocal talents of each of the (primary) singers, sewn together in an expertly crafted compilation piece, viewers are likely to get a chill or two. This is where Pitch Perfect hits: in its sheer, unembarrassed celebration of a capella, of music in general, and of the girls onscreen. The movie makes the mistake of trying to have it both ways. When it goes for self-deprecation, it makes it look all the more unaware of its inherent flaws in plot and character. But in being what plenty of people would be just fine with an a capella movie that isn't ashamed of loving a capella any more than its over-the-top characters are it succeeds. Unfortunately, this sentiment feels limited to the final performance of the film. But to its credit, it's a performance good enough to make up for a whole lot of the stuff that leads up to it.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1 1/2 stars.