Monday Movies Sets Fires to Feel Joy

Pitch Perfect spans the intolerable and the sublime. It’s the story of Beca (Anna Kendrick), a college radio DJ who prefers to keep to her headphones but reluctantly joins an a capella singing group when her professor father says she can only quit college and go to L.A. if she spends her freshman year just trying something. She hooks up with the Bellas, an all-female group whose ranks have been decimated after the lead senior flubbed last year’s championship by projectile vomiting out her “I Saw The Sign” solo. There’s a rival boy group with a romantic foil for Beca (Jesse, played by Skylar Astin, adorable and vocally blessed), and a Revenge of the Nerds-level motley crue of misfit singers filling out the Bella’s replacement ranks.

The movie has little interest in verisimilitude, mostly when it comes to depicting college life–Beca’s dad actually welcomes her to her first semester of college by saying “campus is beautiful in spring.” (The a capella groups’ initiations, however, are dead on.) Subplots rise and fall with little payoff — here’s a bit about Skylar’s roommate Benji being cut from the team, there’s a bit about Beca’s dad’s abandonment leading to her character’s misanthropy. There’s some grotesque slang-engineering that mostly involves adding a prefix of “aca-” to whatever, and a lot of casual cruelty standing in for humor. The tight-ass dictator who serves as Beca’s foil on the Bellas is so unbelievably a control freak that it’s hard to see how she wasn’t keelhauled at the second rehearsal. As competition color commentators, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins gamely livesnark the proceedings, but they pale next to their obvious referent, Fred Willard and Bob Balaban in Best in Show. (Banks calls Higgins out as a misogynist for his pronouncement that “women can never be great a capella singers because they can’t produce those stirring bass notes,” but in the end, the movie affirms his prejudice.)

Here’s the thing, though… I had a great time. It’s a hot mess of a movie, and when it shines, it shines. Romantic leads Kendrick and Astin can both sing and act, and generate enough warmth to make you care about them no matter how unbelievable the drama gets. Rebel Wilson is hilarious in every frame she holds the camera — her line readings alone are worth the price of admission. And the a capella performances are terrific. They’re total cheats, of course, engineered with Brill Building perfection, but since the rest of the film is engineered with Dr. Moreau mania, the set pieces electrify the movie. The Bellas’ rivals, the Treble Makers, are fantastic, led by Adam De Vine (Workaholics) with tight guest rapping by Utkarsh Ambudkar and a Juan Epstein look-alike in Michael Viruet.

They would win the proceedings if it weren’t for Beca figuring out what Margaret Schlegel could have told her: Only connect! The 1980’s to the 2010’s, herself to Jesse, as mashup DJs and ingenues all at once. The movie The Breakfast Club gets boldly recruited into the emotional capper; it’s fun for me as a Generation Xer to see it put in the hands of characters who were born well after it came out, and I wonder if any of their real world counterparts give a damn about it.

What did you see, and was it on key?

5 thoughts on “Monday Movies Sets Fires to Feel Joy

  1. We saw Looper, which was precisely the level of entertainment I expected. It’s sad to me that people were raving about it — it reminded me of when everyone was saying Modern Family was this great show, then it turned out that it was… a basically competently-done sitcom. I suppose that the shittiness of what gets churned out naturally leads to some grade inflation.

    Things I liked: the fact that Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt never wound up seeing eye to eye, the casualness with which they handled “future culture” for the most part, the explanation of time travel that was clever enough if you didn’t start thinking about it too much. Things I didn’t like: JGL’s bizarre make-up after Bruce Willis comes on the scene, the failed attempt to make the guy with the traditional gun a “thing,” the fact that the telekenesis mutation always seemed like a tag-on even though it turned out to be decisive for the plot.

    We also watched most of Tati’s Mon Oncle, which was not nearly as good as Playtime — it even seemed to drag in parts.

  2. If you concern yourself with having movies “spoiled”, don’t read this comment. One of the things that bothers me about Looper was when Bruce Willis comes through the first time, he punches JGL in the face and escapes. After what happens as a result plays out, the movie appears to cut back to that scene when Willis first appears in the past. The second time, though, JGL blasts him as he’s supposed to, collects his money and “closes the loop”. For the entire movie, I expected the significance of that second possibility to become significant. If its significance was made evident, I must admit I missed it. Was I so dense? Or was it just showing that if you get into time travel, an inevitable side effect is an infinite number of resulting realities?

  3. It was good to see you in the movie theater lobby coming out of Pitch Perfect as I was going into see Looper (which I loved).

    I went back and saw Pitch Perfect, which was super fun, but If I was born in 1995 and saw that movie, I would cry foul, as it is dated in many ways.

    1) All the names are for kids born in the late ’70s
    2) It touts the films of the early eighties (i.e. films beloved by someone born in the late ’70s) as the pinnacle of culture that should be discovered and admired by all subsequent generations of youth.
    3) It’s remarkably white and straight. Current films have understanding parents, Asian kids who are aren’t aliens, and black characters with names.

Comments are closed.