I thought I was getting into a Clueless-like satire when I watched Pitch Perfect, but this is more clean-cut comedy. It reminded me tonally of something like Empire Records – nothing inherently wrong with that, though the set-up implies that it’s going to be something other than it is, if not satire, then at least closer to spoof (thinking-aloud-digression: what’s the difference between spoof and satire? I suppose that a modern spoof is something like Not Another Teen Movie, which, though I haven’t seen it, I imagine takes known sequences and stock characters and plays them to an extreme – either caricaturistically cartoon-like, or mocking known traits. I think a satire can probably do the same thing (I consider Clueless a satire and those valley girl-tropes are pretty damn apparent), but maybe it has a more defined target. Or maybe it just has the combined goal of lampooning and, more importantly to the definition, pointing out ironies, flaws, and oxymorons. Hmmmm….I’ll have to think about this one more).
Who cares? Well I do. Pitch Perfect begins like a satire to me because of the body-humor setup amidst the otherwise prissy, preppy world of collegiate a cappella. Sure, that’s kind of like a Scary Movie-extreme, but it’s not just puke for the sake of puke (well, at first it seems like it’s not…and then by the end, it kind of is); it’s a visual embodiment of the singer’s voice. She’s close to a literal interpretation of “sing your heart out,” or “my stomach was in my throat.”
On top of that, the cut to our commentators, Gail and John (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins who, alongside Rebel Wilson and Hana Mae Lee are easily the funniest part of the movie) reminds immediately of any Christopher Guest movie, particularly Best in Show.
So these first few shots set me up for a film that will take the anxiety, anticipation, talent, and ego of a cappella competition and poke fun, while simultaneously winking at us.
The problem? That doesn’t really happen. Pretty soon after this intro we skip ahead a few months, and what follows is one of the most traditional, predictable scripts I can remember in a long time. It’s so predictable that the film tries to make fun of its conventionality when Anna Kendrick’s Beca, referring to The Breakfast Club, says that she hates the obvious, Hollywood ending.
The (sort of) diverse cast-
-is perhaps itself making fun of their ultra-fit, either black-rapper or white-singer competition, but despite a few different oddball types, this group soon falls into that same trap: the Asian drops a beatbox and the black girl raps in the final competition.
There are SPOILERS below…but if you can’t guess the end of this film then there’s no hope for you.
Back to that script. There’s a near fatal flaw in it towards the end. Bumper (Adam DeVine) is the snarky, arrogant leader of the Trebles, the male rivals of the Bellas (Beca’s group). He’s confident, but he’s also a performer. He’s good on-stage, and he leads his team to victory after victory. In short, he’s your antagonist. Okay, that makes sense.
But just before the final, big competition, Bumper comes into his frat house and announces that he’s been asked to sing backup for John Mayer. He’s gone. He’s not singing in the final. Now I get why the writers did this. First, it makes Bumper even more of an asshole, and we don’t like him to begin with. Second, it allows Jesse (Skylar Astin), the love interest and a ridiculously bland character, to take center stage for that performance. And third, it allows Benji (Ben Platt) the stereotypical talented nerd to fulfill a dream and get a spot on the team. All of these are pretty traditional script approaches.
The problem is that Bumper’s absence severely lessens the Bella’s ultimate victory. He’s the villain! You’re supposed to defeat the bad guy, not win because he wasn’t there! Imagine if your favorite sports movie – a Mighty Ducks, Major League, etc – took away the bad guy/girl on the opposing team and then look at that victory. It’s a little pitiful. And that’s ultimately what happens here.
I don’t mind script decisions that go against convention, and on first glance, this is just that. It fools the audience – no Bumper after all! The problem is that everything about Pitch Perfect has been so conventional to this point that this just feels like a left turn. The entire script is telegraphed from the beginning – and that’s okay – it doesn’t claim to be anything more than The Breakfast Club: the love interests meet in the first 6 minutes, the nerd gets his comeuppance, Beca experiences her “low point” right at the midpoint of the film, the misfits get redemption, etc etc etc. So this whole Bumper thing just feels out of whack.
There are other funny parts of Pitch Perfect. An early one is the all-to-brief appearance of the Deaf Jew club:
And another is the faux-hazing scene that looks like a bad Skulls imitation:
Then there are the funny moments that aren’t supposed to be funny. Who had a freshman dorm that looked like this?
And perhaps the funniest part of the movie: Jesse gets Beca (who hates movies. Man, she’s so cool) to watch The Breakfast Club. He wants to demonstrate how meaningful it is to her, so what does he do? He turns out the lights, gets out his laptop…and skips right to the ending scene! Ha! Is this a joke about Pitch Perfect itself (don’t worry, if you just skip right to the end you’ll get everything that happened before)? Or is Jesse just such an idiot that he expects Beca, who’s never seen the film before, to get the same emotional resonance from it by watching the last scene and seeing him repeat the lines silently to himself. I think this is pretty horrendous writing: