This is a competition movie about two a cappella singing teams, the Barden Bellas and the Treblemakers, at a university for the musically impaired.
I hated this film and I blame Magic Mike. Based on the trailers both look like daft competition movies, but have good reputations and come recommended. Since Magic Mike offers far more than expected I thought I’d give this a go. Unfortunately it’s actually worse than the trailer, and its pitch is more patchy than perfect.
The characters are all flat and under-developed, and we’re not given any reason at all to be on their side. They’re not underdogs, the stakes are low, and they’re so unpleasant and self-absorbed it’s easier to root for their failure. The closest thing to a character arc is Beca (Anna Kendrick) who initially only joins the team to please her father but ends up helping the team with the revolutionary idea of singing current pop music.
While it’s a film about singing live, the songs sound utterly synthetic (it’s easy to be pitch perfect when you have Auto-Tune) and the lip-syncing is poor. Why not get actors who can actually sing a capella? It’s hard to believe the cast was selected for its comic abilities. The lack of entertainment value in the musical numbers is only matched by the bits in between. Just watch some Rupaul’s Drag Race lip-syncs to see how impressive the format can be when done right.
The one impressive thing about Pitch Perfect is its resistance to the concept of diversity. The team is made almost entirely of thin, attractive white girls, with a silent Asian (Hana Mae Lee), a near-silent black girl (Ester Dean, also the short-haired lesbian) and a fat girl literally called Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). No prizes for guessing which girls are the butt of most of the jokes. At one point the team are beaten to the final by an ethnically diverse opponent, that is until their parents step in and get the team disqualified on a technicality so their entitled white kids can take their place.
A film dubbed the cinematic Glee should at a minimum offer inclusive fun, but Pitch Perfect has a nasty tone. This is in part due to the witless, tone-deaf writing and improvisation, where what’s presumably intended to be entertaining bitchiness comes across as crass insults. And that’s before we get to the hilarity of a fat girl getting food thrown at her or multiple scenes of projectile vomiting. The scenes which link up the ear-scraping musical numbers usually involve our characters screaming at each other, making it feel like watching two hours of X Factor auditions.
Pitch Perfect feels like a marketable idea with no substance behind it, and is a prime example of the sharp deterioration in comedy writing compared to the fine tuned efforts of the past (see War of the Roses, Dave, Best in Show, Sister Act, Desperately Seeking Susan, Three Men and a Baby, Tootsie, The Man with Two Brains). It’s unfunny, unpleasant and consequently unbearable, and as a competition movie it’s on a par with Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling effort Over the Top, which I don’t say lightly. Would I recommend it? Pitch please.