We’ve known each other for a little while now. I’ve gotten to know things about you, dear reader, shameful things that previously only your browser history knew about (I know you read my Fifty Shades review. We have no secrets, you and I). So I’ve decided to come clean about something big, something game-changing, something that will forever change the way you think about me and may even cause you to doubt your love for me, fathomless though you thought it was: I used to be a fan of Glee.
Are you still reading? Oh, thank God! I was so afraid my love for a cappella covers of popular songs would keep us apart. What’s that? Yes, I said a cappella. Wait, where are you going? Come back! This isn’t a Glee review!
Oh, good, you came back. Let me explain myself. I used to be a fan of Glee, but I am still a fan of the Warblers. If you’re unfamiliar, that’s an all-boy a cappella group from a rival high school, and it’s led by the beautiful, inimitable (though he does a pretty kickin’ imitation of Daniel Radcliffe himself) Darren Criss. And why do I love the Warblers so much, you may ask? I love them because, even though they need a little of it to make the magic, they’re not as desperately, heroin-addict-ly dependent on AutoTune. And because of that, there really is magic. There’s a purity to their music, a sort of spirituality that can only be reached by singing about skintight jeans and going all the way tonight. There’s something beautiful about it.
On the other hand, there is nothing beautiful about projectile vomiting, and yet I had a blast when I went to see Pitch Perfect the other night.
The movie opens with Uptight Blonde Chick — who was in the Glee episode “Sectionals,” and no, the coincidence is not lost on me, and I wrote all that stuff up there before I found out that’s what I knew her from — stress-vomming all over the audience at a major a cappella competition. Then Anna Kendrick, an aspiring alternative DJ who wisely decided against ear stretchers, shows up at college a few months later and gets forcibly drafted into the all-girls “Barden Bellas”. Anna gets into a bunch of minor squabbles with Uptight Blonde Chick about the ancient, unchanging setlist, uses her mad DJ skillz to win the big contest through the power of mashups, gets the guy despite the fact that he’s on a rival team, etc, etc, etc. I have a lot of things to say and I’m not giving you the full rundown, and anyway this is basically every story about show choir ever.
First off: characters. I had trouble with Anna Kendrick, or rather her character, whose name I can’t type without saying, “Really? That’s her name? That’s dumb.” (It’s Beca. Very alternative, I’m sure, but I can’t look at her without thinking “Anna.”) I liked the idea of the character better than the execution. I’ll explain this more when I discuss plot, but I felt like she didn’t live up to her potential. I don’t think any of the characters did. This is why I prefer television or books: there’s much more space to explore characterization without smushing it together with the plot and hoping it forms an engaging story. I know Pitch Perfect was meant to be an ensemble piece, but it felt stretched, like chocolate pudding scraped across too much ham.
That being said, some of the characters didn’t need backstory. They served their purposes as comedic devices and didn’t aspire to be any more than that. Anyone who has seen the movie can probably guess who I’m talking about. Fat Amy, the only character whose name I can actually remember, for one. “You call yourself Fat Amy?” “Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” She was confident, secure in herself, and had a wicked wit: Amy would have succeeded as a character no matter what size yoga pants she wore.
My other favorite was Fishface, an adorable Asian girl who never speaks in any kind of audible range and yet manages to spew out an impressive array of jaw-dropping statements: “You guys wanna see a dead body?” As utterly horrifying as it was to see Fishface making a snow angel in an enormous puddle of vomit (courtesy of Uptight Blonde Chick), it was spot-on, character-wise. Unfortunately, she finally raised her voice near the end of the film and the magic was lost. It was perfect while it lasted, though.
As far as plot goes, I don’t really have anything to praise. It was an old story with a couple of twists, which were namely a cappella mashups of songs I heard on the radio five times a day last summer. Mostly I feel like this story suffered from a massive case of “missed opportunity.” What about Amy and the leader of the Treble Makers, the rival guys’ team? He hit on her once, so the potential was there, even if the encounter was decisively concluded by one of Amy’s cutting remarks. More importantly, what about the DJ of the college’s alternative music station? Anna gave him loads of flash drives loaded with her beats, and out of nowhere he decided to play them and give her credit. Why not take the credit himself? Why not tell the audience that not everything works out for people just because they happen to be the main characters?
Come to think of it, College DJ was just reeking of potential drama, and nobody touched him. He told Anna she could run the station over spring break even though she was only a freshman, he played her beats on the radio, and he invited her to a concert, which she refused because of a competition. Does no one else see the potential for adversity between Anna and Love Interest, potential borne of more than just “he likes her and she’s not into it”? Add a little competition! Make College DJ a skeezeball who’s trying to get into Anna’s pants and exploit her skillz! Make her agonize over her decision between the concert and the competition, at the very least. It’s a dumb singing thing and she would rather be a DJ; other than advancing the plot, there is literally no reason why she would choose a cappella over a concert.
The whole DJ angle felt forced to me. Anna kept messing around with headphones, a keyboard, a soundboard, a laptop, all the electronics that real musicians apparently use. (Don’t even get me started. We will be here all day.) The whole thing just felt like a way to remind us that Anna is the only one who can save the group. “Oh, hey, remember how she’s a DJ? Did you forget? Have a reminder. And now she’s mixing stuff! Craaaazy! Soooooo alternative!” I have friends who are DJs. One of them is an elementary school teacher, and he is tall, thin, and nerdy. And he definitely doesn’t run around with his own personal recording studio.
I was disappointed when Anna’s reasoning behind all of her problems was neatly wrapped, tied with a bow, and labeled “Daddy Issues.” Everyone has them; this doesn’t mean it’s a fallback for when the story is too long and you don’t have time to explore the character better. “Oh, she’s got problems with her dad. That explains her unwillingness to connect with Love Interest, her disconnect with people outside her comfort zone, and her self-imposed isolation, as well as her driven spirit and the motivation to succeed!” Outside of her problems with her father, there was no stated reason for her to reject Love Interest when he made The Move. It’s just another case of combining plot with characterization and getting messy results.
The movie-watching subplot really worked for me, though. I don’t know why, since I’m feeling like the execution was sloppy on that, too, but I liked that Anna actually sat down and watched a movie (The Breakfast Club) until the end. It was sweet that she used “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, the film’s closing song, in the Bellas’ mashup at finals, thus repairing her relationship with Love Interest.
The music overall was excellent. The finals mashup and the Treble Makers’ “Right Round” were catchy and eminently watchable, but as for tunes that burrow down into your head and settle down for the winter… I have had “Titanium” stuck in my head since Friday night. It is now Monday. This is getting to be a problem… or at least it would be if I didn’t secretly like that song so much.
Overall, I felt like there were a lot of themes, symbolism, and hints at a greater plot. It made for a bit of a frenzied movie, and in some ways it might have worked better as a TV show. But if it were a series, it would almost certainly suffer from a little-known condition — little-known because I just now made it up — called Dysenterglee. That is when a series craps all over itself because it doesn’t have the necessary bowel control to keep from blowing out anything it thinks of. Glee suffered from this (obviously). It was restricted by its medium, trying to appeal to a mass audience for an hour each week over every other show on the air at the same time. It tried to be too inclusive. It wasn’t allowed to use any swear words, because it wasn’t carried by HBO.
In some ways it felt like a Bridesmaids ripoff, but let’s be honest: ever since that movie came out, the suits in Hollywood realized that women like crude humor just as much as men do. So we’re going to be seeing a lot of movies like this for a while, and I can live with that. At one point in the movie, Anna says she doesn’t like movies because they’re predictable. It’s true. Nobody likes watching movies with me because I can almost always predict how it’s going to end (which is especially annoying when we’re watching CSI). In this case, yeah, I knew how the movie was going to end. But the journey there was excellent.
“Hang on,” I hear you probably saying. “You just spent like 1,500 words talking about all the things this movie did wrong. Now you’re telling us you enjoyed it! WHAT IS THE DEAL.” The deal, my all-caps-using friend, is that this movie finally made me feel less guilty about liking covers and remixes of things. It may have had a lot of flaws, but like that friend of yours who’s always being racist and smacking your ass (I’m not the only one with friends like that… right?), it’s fun to watch, and for a Friday night girls’ night out, that’s all I really wanted.
- “How’s the stepmonster?… I don’t care, I just wanted to say ‘stepmonster.’” I need to find an excuse to say this. To anyone. I don’t even care if there’s an actual stepmonster involved.
- Why does any college need four a cappella groups? You’ve got two serious groups, and even that is frankly unnecessary, plus the group that sings only Madonna and the one that’s too high to even sing anything (and when I say high, I don’t mean their vocal range).
- The group is called the Bellas. Anna Kendrick was in Twilight. I could not mentally separate the two. I think I have a problem. Or several.
- Tongue-in-cheek reference to the background characters with no screen time: “We’ve been here literally the whole time.”
- Donald Faison in an a cappella group! Nobody knew why I was squealing. (Scrubs, season 6, “My Musical.” Do it. Right now.)
- “I have a feeling we should kiss.” “I sometimes have a feeling I can do crystal meth, but then I think, mmm, better not.” Fat Amy, I have a feeling we would be perfect together.
- “Lesbi-honest.” That is all.