It seems that I only ever see movies these days at the behest of my friends. I should honestly be thankful for that, since otherwise I’d be hideously out of the loop (er… more out of the loop) of what sorts of trends in characters Hollywood was attempting to pull over on us. Of course, then I get saddled with an unsuitable urge to write a review on the movie du jour. Oh, woe and misery onto me.
Honestly, when I started up Pitch Perfect I really wasn’t expecting much of anything; despite being released in September of last year, it no doubt had that ‘summer movie’ vibe going for it. You know the one, too early to even try for any type of award so the plot and ending are able to be surmised from the trailer and all the characters are the clichés we’ve come to love/hate. The only reason people watch such a type of movie is to clear their head of any worries that had previously been rolling around in there and just veg out for an hour or two, which there’s nothing wrong with. In fact, that’s what I was doing and I have to say that my expectations were met: Pitch Perfect is nothing new, but there is one thing that sets it apart from most of the other summer movies I’ve seen.
Let’s back up first, back to the beginning. As the title implies, Pitch Perfect is about music, more specifically competing a cappella groups at the everyman college, Barden University. For those unfamiliar with the scene, a cappella is a group performance of a song with every part done by vocals—instruments or beatboxing, these groups are very versatile and with other shows such as The Sing Off and groups like Pentatonix becoming more well known, it’s no surprise that Hollywood wanted to cash in on the craze.
Freshman Beca, whose father is a professor at Barden, is already disenchanted with college life before she arrives and becomes even more so when faced with a roommate that already hates her existence, being forced to attend college when she really wants to hit the LA DJing scene, and having to join a club. At the same time, Chloe and Aubrey, two members of the all-female group, the Barden Bellas, are desperately looking for new members after being the only two left in the group. With a little coercing (and a funny-but-in-a-creepy-way shower scene) Beca attends the auditions—late—and gets a spot in the Bellas along with several other misfits. The group does not mesh well.
As leader, Aubrey is over-demanding and quite frankly psycho and will stop at nothing just so she can clear her name (the previous year she caused the Bellas to lose at the finals) and beat the opposing all-male group, the Treblemakers, into the ground. However, Aubrey’s song choice is stuck in the past and this directly conflicts with Beca’s more modern style; this causes a clash not only between them, but a dissonance between the other members, too. To make matters worse, Beca is friends (“friends”) with one of the members of the Trebletones, Jesse, which is in direct violation of Aubrey’s rules for the group. When the groups arrive at the semi-finals, events finally come to a head when Beca takes the act into her own hands and tries to mix it up. While the new arrangement brings a little life into the otherwise completely dull set, it hinders the girls as a whole (since none of them were warned before time) and the Bellas, sans Beca who was kicked out due to her shenanigans, do not make it to the finals.
…Except that they do. By the stupidest deus ex machina I’ve ever seen in my life.
Seeing this as a second chance, the girls somewhat reluctantly make up and decide to incorporate a more modern flair into their act. From here it’s all smooth sailing: they put on an amazing act and they win. Everyone’s happy. People kiss. Babies are born. Okay, maybe not that last one.
If there’s one thing I can say about this movie, the one thing that sets it apart from all the others, it’s that the music is amazing, but the characters aren’t. In fact, all the characters seem to be designed to be completely unlikable. I can’t sympathize with Beca at all because she’s such a spoiled, whiny snot who complains because she has to actually face consequences for her actions (except when she doesn’t because the movie wills it to be so). I can’t sympathize with most of the Treblemakers because they’re literally terrible people that were manufactured to be as obnoxious as possible (even though only three ever have actual lines). The rest of the Bellas are also too much caricature and not enough actual character to be seen as real people, so there’s nothing there. The father is obviously just there to cause conflict and doesn’t actually show any paternal care towards Beca. So really, I couldn’t give a crap if anyone won the damned finals. In fact, I wish the one team that was supposed to go to the finals won instead; they seemed like decent people. Oh wait, there are two characters that I really liked, well, three.
First off, the male romantic interest, Jesse, was surprisingly well thought out. Writers for this movie seemed to take the tropes of “sensitive guy” but instead of just rolling with it, they added a little bit of a more realistic edge to him. Whereas he is sensitive—he is strangely sentimental towards the songs that play during the credits of movies and isn’t afraid to let Beca know he’s interested, but doesn’t overstep his or her boundaries—he also knows when to put his foot down and not allow people to walk all over him. After dealing with Beca’s mercurial nature and being the target for her anger, he finally has to separate himself from her. Scenes like this are exceedingly difficult to not make overdramatic. However, Jesse is able to do it quickly and simply without droning on and on about how much she’s hurt him, etc. He’s surprisingly well rounded and even though he can’t really sing, he adds a nice balance to everyone else in the movie.
I think I would be excommunicated from the internet if I also didn’t give the character of Fat Amy props. I adore her sassiness and the fact that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants. Although she certainly still maintains the “fat person = funny” trope, it’s not as awful as it could have been and the relationship between her and the horrendous dick in charge of the Treblemakers was pretty intriguing and I’m a little disappointed they didn’t explore that further. However, as much as I loved most of her one-liners, her character seemed to be confused most of the time. She pandered to Aubrey whenever she was on screen and didn’t really have a character arc, despite being one of the main secondary characters. Also, there was the really troubling subplot concerning her and Aubrey’s speculations about the other girls in the group and, “lesbihonest”, it was really uncomfortable to watch. The whole “is she or isn’t she a lesbian” thing was not funny and definitely was a little homophobic. Even when the character did out herself (it was done pretty nonchalantly and tastefully) the joke didn’t end. The important thing about having a good joke character is knowing how long the joke should last. Unfortunately, this didn’t exactly happen as often as it should have.
Yet, out of all the misused tropes trying to be passed off as characters, my favorite might just be one of the worst offenders. Rather, he would have been had he had any more screen-time than he did. Jesse’s roommate, Benji, stole my heart with his idealistic outlook on the Treblemakers and his perseverance in the face of rejection. For all his life, Benji looked up to the Treblemakers and was thrilled when he got the chance to try out for them, but since its leader thought the poor kid was too weird and uncool for their group, he didn’t get chosen, despite having an amazing singing voice. Even so, he ends up working backstage for the semi-finals and gets his chance to shine during the actual finals. As you can see, this character actually has a full character arc and as a much more well-rounded character than Beca, I found myself much more invested in his story than hers. In fact, I wanted the Trebletones to win the finals just because Benji finally was able to live out his dream and he deserved it, damn it. Also, bearing the weight of the “weird nerd” trope is not an easy task and it’s even harder to make that trope relatable and not a complete laughing stock. So while Benji is completely obsessed with magic and Star Wars (his side of the dorm room is stacked with merchandise and would probably make any fan jealous), it doesn’t overrun his character: he’s not running around saying “may the force be with you” with his magician’s cape floating in the wind. He’s a normal guy that really likes something and is sometimes a bit overzealous with it. It’s completely relatable and realistic and his character didn’t leave me insulted in the least.
So, while the characters didn’t wow me for the most part, the events in the plot left me a little less than impressed in retrospect. Allow me a little time, first off, to complain about the stupid plot twist that gets the Bellas to the finals. There’s no denying that their act sucked and that both of the other teams were better. However, by some chance someone discovers that one of the members on the qualifying team (the non-Treblemakers one) wasn’t a college student and, in fact, was a high school student.
This is done by them noticing one of the performer’s mother’s bag has “My Child is an Honor Student at JFK High School” on it. There is no way this would ever work. For one, if they were really so committed to this rouse, they could simply lie about it. Secondly, the bag could either a) be referring to another one of their children or b) be from a while ago. Lord knows they didn’t just start making that kind of apparel. It’s just a really cheap way to get the Bellas back in the game when they didn’t deserve it at all. I even think the movie would have been more interesting if they weren’t allowed back in, but managed to put themselves back together on their own volition. It would have been better for Beca’s character, anyway.
Speaking of which, Beca is touted as a rather tough, “my way or the highway” kind of character, and honestly it’s great seeing that kind of headstrong, prideful person in a female character, but the writers do her such a disservice. This is best exemplified in one specific scene. After Jesse tells Beca he’s tired of the way she treats him, she retreats back into solitude for some personal introspection and she does this by watching The Breakfast Club.
Earlier on in the movie, Jessie lauds the movie for having one of the best endings and ending songs, so in a sense Beca is trying to connect with what someone important to her finds meaningful. Yet, the writers and directors choose to show this epiphany to the audience by making Beca sob about the ending. Showing emotion isn’t the issue here, it’s the fact that there’s no reason in her character for her to cry over the movie at all. She’s not sentimental. She’s not the type to let something like that get to her. It really only seemed like they wanted to make Beca seem weak, so they had her do something stereotypically girly so not only could she get back with Jesse, but also “fit in more” with the other girlier members of the Bellas.
And, indeed, after she makes her return to the Bellas, Beca suggests slumber party-type games to the group so they can bond (which takes a turn for the stupid as well, but I won’t get into that). It destroys one of the only things that made Beca’s character interesting instead of making her a multifaceted character, which is what I assume they were trying to do.
Two other small points of contention for me were that the damaged relationship between Beca and her father was never really resolved. They had a moment where their problems were laid out for each other to see, but ultimately nothing was done with it. Also that Luke—aka, the romantic rival—never appears again after their spring break. Just because a character is no longer in direct competition with another doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable for them to be written out of the script entirely.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun watching Pitch Perfect, but the movie is so abundant with stereotypes and internal misogyny that’s supposed to be played for laughs but really isn’t that it’s difficult to watch at moments. As far as ‘summer movies’ go, I’d recommend it because it is entertaining and mind-numbing. As far as musical movies go, I’d recommend it because the arrangements are interesting and hell, I’d put most of those mash-ups on my iPod any day. However, don’t expect anything really funny or moving: all the good things about this movie are on the surface, so looking deeper will only lead to disappointment.