“I’m just the same as I was. Now don’t you understand? I’m never changing who I am.” Of the several pop tunes that proliferate Pitch Perfect, “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons is not among them. Not that it needs to be, since plenty of the songs that are in the film generally have the same meaning. That’s not so much a signifier of lacking originality, and more to the point that they were all made for the youth generation demographic. They come from a very idealistic and creative mindset, in that their ambition is to create something different. The message of these songs never changes, in spite of continuous generational shifts from the 80s to today. The cynical minded viewer could, and often does, lambast these songs for never saying anything new, but why change the perfect message to our youth?
It may not be right for me to say “our youth”, since I’m technically a member of that demographic as well. I was in high school when Glee was first popular, and therefore had to deal with the pain of withdrawals after these past two seasons utterly failed to maintain steam. That show became a cauldron of typical teen melodrama, rather than a tactful send-up of it. It therefore brought me much of that titular emotion of glee to see Pitch Perfect tap into the aspirational spirit of the show, without being so juvenile and typical in its portrayal of relationships.
The film follows a college community of Acapella groups, ranging from the uncommitted to the applied and gender oriented. The all-male and all-girl groups are the most competitively focused, constantly gravitating towards and against one another sexually. The difference is that where the guys get more motivated out of it, the leaders of the girls group, mainly Anna Camp’s Aubrey, get more anxiously submissive. As freshman student Beca (yeah, I love Anna Kendrick’s character all the more for the offbeat spelling of her name) enters the fold, she threatens to push the girls group towards the new, and not everyone is emotionally prepared to do that.
Beca is principally a compelling character in that she’s not a POV protagonist. Her spotlight position in the film is earned by her influential behaviors and ambitions, rather than everything being automatically dialed through her as the film’s sole focus. We see events from several different perspectives, like Skylar Astin’s Jesse proving not to be above the Acapella craze as is often the case with such male romantic interests. He’s just as fascinated with music in an emotional context as we are, and that’s rather clearly what drives him. Ben Platt’s ardent roommate to Jesse isn’t as major a player as the film’s onset makes him out to be, and there’s an emotional consequence to that. We see how torn up he is about not being in center focus, and the way his arc is dealt with makes his absence a necessity that doesn’t make us feel like we’re being deprived of him.
So many characters get their chances to shine, which will certainly please the legions of Rebel Wilson fans out there. I find the amount of support for her to be odd given that she’s not really been too empathetic an actress, nor is she given a wildly trying arc here. She’s comedic padding as the confident overweight girl who has everything in her life figured out, and she does it well. I was much more taken with Brittany Snow’s Chloe, who is given a sort of musical identity crisis that I found rather compelling. The change from teen to adult is often an awkward moment, and Snow plays it to a level that’s amusing, but still personally trying.
All those factors in, the main comedic revelation here is Anna Camp, who has many opportunities to dial up crazy as the uptight pack leader of the group. She’s principally fearful, and that makes her a domineeringly irritant as much as a crushing reciprocation of her parents’ generation. She also epitomizes the film’s quirky comedic style, repeatedly uttering the phrase “Aca-scuse me”, as if she totally believes that’s the actual phrase. She’s not dramatically childish, but she’s a bi-product of aggressive introverted censorship.
The fact that it takes me this long to circle back to Anna Kendrick speaks for the strength of the cast and the film’s ensemble nature. All that said, Kendrick really is quite a powerful lightning bolt of lead performance here. All the character aspects she’s been primarily known for in her past work come to greatest fruition with this role. Her withdrawn outcast demeanor at the start of the film lays the ground work for her outspoken transformation to somebody who feels and wants to make a lasting impression in this world of Acapella. Even she is able to scoff at the cliche-ness of that concept occasionally before ultimately giving in to it.
It’s that kind of energy that really grabbed me about this film. Like so many others this year, it realizes that people will label it as cliche and derivative the moment they see the trailer. I’d say it knows what it is and doesn’t try to be anything else, but the talent and effort here fundamentally disputes that. Everything is supremely above average, and even the gross out moments that usually drag a film down play as character beats. Pitch Perfect indicates a shift for its own kind of “derivative” films, because they are entertaining and affecting movies. As Jesse says to Beca, “Not liking movies is like not liking… puppies.” Don’t even pretend that you don’t love it.
Bottom Line: If Pitch Perfect doesn’t make you laugh or smile, you’re quite possibly suffering from a supreme lack of heart, because it has plenty.