Netflix Made Me Watch This
I am not a fan of musicals. I've been perfectly up front about this, with the subject coming up more than once on the podcast. I can understand why people like them, in a subjective kind of way, but I do not enjoy musicals in most forms. I like story and, too often music is substituted in for story, and I feel like something is lost in the process. I tend to avoid musicals for that reason and anything that looks like a musical -- such as a movie about an all female A Capella group -- quickly gets a pass from me.
Pitch Perfect is a film I have no watched twice. Once, years ago for a previous iteration of this site, and then again today because NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). harassed me into it. By that I mean that every time I loaded up Netflix, Pitch Perfect was in the "People With Your Tastes Watched This..." category, and it would immediately start playing a scene with an ear worm that wouldn't go away. Out of desperation, so that just maybe the film would stop showing up on my list and something else could bother me for a while, I re-watched the movie. A review was inevitable.
Frankly, the film was about as okay as I remember it from the last time. It's a bit messy, a bit sloppy (and that's before we even get to the two vomit scenes), but it does have an endearing heart to it that helps to paper over a few of its flaws. Plus, it has a game cast that helps to carry much of the film. For those people looking for decent music sung A Capella, this film delivers that, plus laughs. For everyone else... well, it's an okay rom com with some amusing moments.
Anna Kendrick stars as Beca Mitchell, a loner who likes to be left alone. All she wants to do is hang out on her laptop, working on mash-ups, or working at the campus radio station. She's just come to Barden University when all she really wanted to do was go to L.A. and work her way up in the music scene. Her father (John Benjamin Hickey), though, wants her to go to school, so he gets her in at the university where he works (as a professor). As a compromise, though, he makes a deal with her where, if she makes some friends and at least tries out the college experience properly, he'll let her bail after a year and go to L.A. instead. He'll even pay for it.
Looking for something to do to honor the agreement, Beca ends up auditioning for the Barden Bellas, one of four A Capella groups on campus, and the only all-female crew. After a decently impressive little performance, Beca is accepted into the group, enthusiastically by second-in-command Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), but less enthusiastically by leader of the Bellas, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp). The previous year, in finals, Aubrey failed her big solo during their performance, blowing chunks all across the front row of the audience. Now, as the leader, she absolutely wants to get back to finals and redeem the Bellas. However, the songs they cover are old and tired, their dance moves are boring, and no one cares about the Bellas. It might just be that Beca, with her outsider attitude and fondness for mash-ups, will be able to turn the Bellas around.
The thing about the film is that it has a lot going on in it. Along with that main plot, there's a storyline about Beca kinda of, sort of falling for a guy, Jesse Swanson (Skylar Astin), who is on the Treblemakers, the all-male A Capella group at the university who are also repeat winners at the ICCA Finals. Then there's the storyline about Beca and her dad, her working at the radio station, and what she's going to do with her life. Hell, there's a D-plot about Jesse's roommate, Benji Applebaum (Ben Platt), and his attempts at joining the Treblemakers. The film has so much going on in it that most of these storylines really don't get the time or fullness, they need to really develop.
I can understand why all these storylines are in the film. If this was just a movie about people singing A Capella, you'd probably only get about 45 minutes worth of story out of the deal. But the way the film handles it, dumping every story idea it can into the mix and just letting it all ride, feels like a misstep. A few storylines could have been trimmed so that other, more important ideas could come to fruition. If the movie is supposed to be all about Beca finding her way in the music industry, for example, then more needed to be done with her job at the radio station. I think there were a total of three very short scenes there and that was it. If you cut those scenes entirely, nothing in the film would have been lost, but considering her character's motivations and desires, the radio station feels necessary. Something else really needed to give.
At the same time, the film is also all over the place with its humor. At times it's a sarcastic comedy (any time Kendrick's Beca is in charge). Other times is a broad, feel good, musical comedy. And then it has weirdly places, gross-out moments that feel like they came from an entirely different film. If I had to guess, someone in the production team saw Bridesmaids and its scene where all the ladies in that film ended up with explosive diarrhea and said, "we need that in our movie. This film is for ladies, that film was for ladies, so lets have a gross moment like this. Apparently women love this." I do understand that the vomit works as a sudden, comedic shock and it adds motivation to Aubrey's character, but all the same it does feel out of place in this film.
From a musical perspective, though, the film is pretty good. It has three things it really has to prove for the meat of the film, and it does a pretty awesome job with two of them. For one, it has to show that the musical tastes of the Bellas, while well sung, are pretty tired and old. They sing the same three songs in each of their competitions (right up until the end when they finally change things up): "The Sign", "Eternal Flame", and "Turn the Beat Around". These are not songs anyone cares about anymore. It's Mom Pop, if we have to give it a term, and it is really tired. The film also has to show, by contrast, that the Treblemakers have real skill and can absolutely knock it out of the park with their performances. They do so, killing it with songs like "Don't Stop the Music", "Let It Whip", and "Right Round", to name a few.
Where the film struggles is in proving that Beca has really talent with her mash-ups. Her mash-ups are fine, but I wouldn't say they showed a huge amount of talent. Certainly the script doesn't really know how to make her sound credible when she's discussing them. And really, considering it's been over a decade since this film came out, the whole concept of mash-ups being cutting edges doesn't really play as well. They're another genre at this point, a bit old-hat in some ways. It's one of those ways that the film shows its age. It's only a decade old, it shouldn't already feel aged.
With all that said, the film is fun. It often is funny, and has likable stars playing likable characters. This film doesn't really push anyone's acting range at all -- Beca is the kind of character Kendrick can play in her sleep -- but it's a largely amusing comedy that gets its job done. If all you want it music and laughs, the film does provide. I just wish, from a storytelling perspective, it had enough time and focus to really tell the stories it sets out in its opening act. That would have made the film so much better.