Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

As I hop on the years-past train again to do some catch-up before checking out a new release, I find myself face-to-face with someone I’ve been meaning to let loose about for quite some time: Rebel Wilson. I made brief mention of her rather grating turn in Night At The Museum 3, but I didn’t really get into what I think about her. Specifically, how baffled I am that, of all the Aussie stand-ups I’ve seen, she was the one to become a break-out star in the U.S. Having seen her older work, like The Wedge, Pizza and some of her stand-up material that largely consisted of standard Boganisms about Frankston (think the Australian version of New Jersey; a place that is the butt of every joke by hack comedians), I just don’t see it. Don’t get me wrong, good fucking on her for giving proper Australian comedy some overseas attention, but I’m guessing it’s because she kind of blindsided everyone that she got where she did and my proximity to her early work is why I don’t get it. In any case, time to look at the film that officially brought her to the attention of most U.S. audiences: This is Pitch Perfect.

The plot: Beca (Anna Kendrick), a budding DJ and freshman at Barden University, joins the a cappella group the Barden Bellas led by commanding traditionalist Aubrey (Anna Camp). In order to win against opposing group the Treblemakers, and make up for an embarrassing performance the previous year, Aubrey brings together a new group of vocalists, including Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), but Beca and her butt heads when their well-worn set list fails to work for them.

This film starts out much the same way as Unfriended, in that it immediately impressed me right from the Universal Studios ident. An a cappella arrangement of the Universal theme… okay, film I was initially putting off seeing for the longest time, you now have my attention. Then, over the opening credits, we get a mash-up of Young MC’s Bust A Move and Azealia Banks’ 212. Between these two, it marks a perfect start to a damn good soundtrack… provided that Top 40 radio doesn’t make you want to see what a bloody severed eardrum looks like and use your own as a test subject. But even with that in mind, I’m not even that big a fan of some of the songs they use here but the a cappella arrangements of them really work here: The opening rendition of Rihanna’s Don’t Stop The Music serves well at making the Treblemakers look like a legit challenge, Kelly Clarkson’s Since You’ve Been Gone becomes an a cappella orchestra of sorts to showcase what the individual singers are capable of and a later rendition of Miley Cyrus’ Party In The U.S.A. might be one of the few times that enjoying music ironically has been effectively portrayed on screen. The apex of all this comes with the Step Up-esque Riff Off, ending on a serious frisson-causing cover of No Diggity; I knew that Anna Kendrick had pipes from her role as Cinderella in Into The Woods, but wow. She’s not alone in that, either: Singer Ester Dean as Cynthia-Rose does really well here, showing that her once collaborating with pop-rap punchline Soulja Boy hasn’t had any ill effects, Brittany Snow as second-in-command Chloe brings in the same skills she showed off in Hairspray, and Rebel Wilson… maybe it’s because I haven’t watched Bogan Pride yet, but I was blindsided by just how good she is, both on her own and as part of the Bellas. I may not have a lot of experience with acappella myself, aside from a bit of beatboxing, but I know what I like and I’m really digging this.

Then we get to what fills in the gaps between the music and things aren’t nearly as consistent. It seems to waver quite heavily between passing the bar into adorkable and just plain annoying. I’m thankful that they toned down the fact that Rebel Wilson is an Aussie, but the script still takes poorly juxtaposed time out to drop hints that she is Australian. We get it; stop treating us like seals and thinking you need to beat us over the head to get what you want. Also, if you’re like me and groaned at the ‘pitch-slapped’ pun on the movie poster, then strap yourself in because that’s the tamest of the puns to be found here. I got a mild chuckle out of them saying to leave the ‘acapolitics’ of it, but otherwise this gets annoying pretty quick. Outside of the dialogue, the plot is pretty by-the-numbers as well: Outsider joins a club, club leader doesn’t like how she wants to change things, break-up, make-up, win big competition, roll credits. At least the characters that fill in the story fit the bill, or else I would completely sideline this as a film designed to push the soundtrack and nothing else. Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin) work as an on-screen couple, not to mention making for a third-act break-up that works a lot better than others, Aubrey may be a complete cad for the most part but she’s definitely dialed back and makes the film as a whole run smoother as a result, and it might be my tendencies for the jarringly dark but Lilly makes for some of the funniest moments in the film. Yeah, half the joke is what you can’t hear her saying, but what she actually is saying if you listen close enough… that is black belt flying under the radar if ever I heard it. Hell, even with all the heavy hinting-at, I can even get into Rebel’s persona here as well.

All in all, while the innards may have some problems scattered throughout, the music forgives almost all sins and makes a seriously good watch for the more musically-inclined out there. I would say just grab the soundtrack and leave out all the potentially aggravating moments, but this is where context makes some of the better moments like the riff-off not hit as hard through just the audio so… yeah, I definitely recommend checking out the film proper. This ranks higher than 21 Jump Street, as this got over its teething issues a lot quicker, but despite how disjointed it felt, I still got more out of Looper as a film overall.

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