It’s hard to watch the trailer for the new comedy about a loser college a capella group trying to win the national championship by throwing down with current hit singles and not get the primal reaction: Are they remaking Glee for the big screen?
No, not exactly. First of all, Glee has already been on the screen, briefly and unsuccessfully, with the Glee 3D Concert Movie. Also, Pitch Perfect is a little edgier, a little less sappy (at least than the last season or two) and more blatantly funny. It also takes place in a college, not a high school. However, the basic framework is the same, this one just has a different vibe to the same old story.
Which is not to say that Pitch Perfect isn’t an enjoyable film. Hell, Glee is enjoyable too, though it seems to have lost its way a bit in the past season.
Pitch Perfect, on the other hand, mostly has it’s pitch down pat. It’s far from being a great movie, but it is a fun one. Pitch Perfect is to Glee sort of like what Fired Up! was to Bring It On: newer, hipper, but essentially the same old thing.
The story is simple and as old as time. Anna Kendrick is Beca, a pretty-but-edgy college student who hates school and dreams of being a DJ. She specializes in mash-ups, musical collages in which two (or more) songs with similar beats per minute (and not much else in common) and shuffled together to make a new dance jam.
Once she gets on campus, she is scouted to be part of the college’s women’s a capella vocal group. (A capella is so big in this college that they don’t have one, but they have four vocal groups on campus.) The group she is pressured to join is legendary on campus and reached the national finals before losing to the campus’ male group, all because the lead singer of the girls projectile vomited on stage. Well, that and because apparently the only song these ladies know is Ace of Base’s “The Sign.” Therefore, the girls think that Beca’s fresh beats and mash-ups may be just what they need to win the championship away from the smug guys – even the cute new one who kinda likes Beca and she may kinda feel the same.
Now, I’ve got to admit, while I do occasionally find mash-ups that are intriguing, in general they sound like a car wreck, very different songs (despite the same beats per minute) fighting for attention. Mash-ups play a huge part here (even bigger than in Glee, though they do more than their share of the things, too.). Everytime I’m supposed to feel impressed by her cleverness in mixing these mashes, I’m just wondering why they can’t play one whole real song.
Of course, the movie is rather judgmental and fuzzy in its musical knowledge. As noted above, it tries to point out that the old girl group is square by having them sing “The Sign” by Ace of Base. Okay, perhaps that is even deserved, but later the movie tries to convince us that while that song is cheesy, the likes of “Mickey” by Toni Basil and “No Diggity” by Blackstreet are hip. I’d like to see your math there, guys.
The film’s fuzzy grasp of music is blatantly outed in a scene in which the male lead tries to drop this little bit of knowledge on his potential love interest: the song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club made the band Simple Minds huge stars only after Billy Idol turned down the song. This would be a cool factoid if not for the fact that it is wrong on two levels. First of all, Simple Minds were big stars in their native Europe and had a good amount of alt airplay in the US beforehand. Yes, it was their first huge American hit, but it’s not like they just came out of nowhere. In fact hardcore Simple Minds fans tend to consider the song a sell-out. Also, the song was originally offered to former Roxy Music leader Bryan Ferry, who turned it down – not Billy Idol. I don’t know if the screenwriters just didn’t know any better or they were afraid their hip young audience wouldn’t know who Bryan Ferry was (though really hip music geeks definitely should) and wouldn’t know the difference. Maybe they just never cared enough to check the story. Either way it is a really huge factual error being passed off as a stone cold fact.
However, if Pitch Perfect is a bit fuzzy on its musical knowledge (and taste), it has sass and spirit. The characters are clichés and ciphers, but they fun clichés and ciphers, in particular the scene-stealing supporting turns by Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow. Kendrick is very likable in a rare lead role (she usually is third or fourth leads in films like Up in the Air) and shows that she can indeed carry a movie – and she’ll do it even better when she is given a role with a bit more meat to it. (She also looks a little old to be a college freshman.)
The simple truth is this – there is something elementally amusing about cute, talented kids singing and dancing well. Pitch Perfect will make you smile while watching it, even if you never give it a thought again after it evaporates off of the screen.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 5, 2012.