When Glee first arrived on the small screen in the wake of the High School Musical phenomenon, it initially appeared that it would be satirising the genre while exploiting exactly what made it some popular in the first place. Whether that was the intent or not, it ended up only doing the latter and has creatively suffered ever since. Pitch Perfect feels a lot closer to what Glee could have been had it stayed true to that original course reached its full potential.
So here we get a protagonist (Anna Kendrick’s Beca) who prefers to produce and mix her own music and approaches the idea of performing with the a capella groups with a huge degree of cynicism. There’s also characters like the unashamedly blasé Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who calls herself that so “twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” The super enthusiastic about a capella characters, like Anna Camp’s Aubrey or Adam DeVine’s Bumper, are the ones we’re invited to endearingly snigger at.
Most of the film is so refreshingly tongue-in-cheek that it’s astonishingly daring that the film is quite so eager to have its cake and eat it too. When Pitch Perfect rolls out its chart topping hits and (*shudder*) mash-ups, the cast members are happy to take to the stage and sing and dance their hearts out without a hint of irony. For some this will prove a problem, but one suspects that even the audience members who are sick of the saccharine sweetness of Glee are still happy when they shut up and play the hits.
Those sequences do still kind of work, and some of the more off the cuff musical moments (particularly Anna Kendrick breaking out Dr Dre’s verse from No Diggity) give the film a sense of originality and credibility often lacking in the genre. Those moments combined with frequent side-splitting one-liners from Rebel Wilson encapsulate the movie at its very best, but it is severely lacking when it comes to plotting and characterisation.
Take a look at the character posters for the film and you’ll be introduced to “The Sexy Soprano,” “The Butch Bass” and “The Quiet One,” and that’s literally all you get from the supporting players. Even Kenrick’s Beca doesn’t get to stick to being a rebellious cynic for very long, and is often seen making bafflingly out of character decisions. You begin to wonder why they bothered getting someone as talented an actress and singer as Anna Kendrick when all they needed was a pretty girl with eyeliner and a solid voice. Her romantic subplot too is a huge mistake, and when the lovelorn Beca starts watching John Hughes movies it brings to mind Easy A and a reminder of what a smart and sassy heroine she could have been.
Pitch Perfect also arrives in the post-Bridesmaids world, and sadly that film’s legacy so far seems to have been the addition of gross-out scenes to female-led comedies. They undermine the genuine comedic moments here, so thank goodness that Rebel Wilson at least stays true to her character never loses her impeccable comic timing. And Wilson’s performance is a welcome reminder that even if Pitch Perfect doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, it’s still an enjoyable romp on the surface.