Kicking the Tweets
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Pitch Perfect (2012)


Had I seen Pitch Perfect a week ago, I would have used its plot to cut holiday cookies out of dough with my wife--the very same wife who insisted we watch this thing, and whose future recommendations now require unanimous approval by a committee of my choosing.

The film stars Anna Kendrick as a college freshman named Beca. Right away, we've got problems. In 2010, the actress was Oscar-nominated for playing a straight-edge, mid-twenties corporate creature in Up in the Air. Later, she would play a therapist in 50/50 and a cop's wife in End of Watch. Of course, older actors have long taken on younger roles, but Kendrick's left-field turn as a character ten years her junior reminded me of John C. Reilly playing a high school student in Walk Hard--but she's not nearly as convincing.

Doubly unconvincing is the kind of teen she's asked to play. Beca is a club-kid, a snarky non-conformist with the shittiest attitude I've seen in a female protagonist since...well, I guess, since Amy Mann's character in This is 40 (it's been a rough week for movies, kids). She arrives at college with a chip on her shoulder, and a beef with her wretched father (John Benjamin Hickey).

Can you believe the son of a bitch wants his daughter to put off her dreams of running away to L.A. to become a DJ until she finishes at least a year of higher education? He's even got tuition covered, the prick, thanks to his fancy job as a professor at the school. In fairness to him, Beca's technically an adult now, meaning there's nothing actually keeping her from chasing her dreams. I'm sure the big fight in which this caustic, rugged individualist tells her old man that she doesn't need his money and can make it on her own got edited out.

Anyway, Beca is recruited by one of the school's four competing singing clubs. Upper classwoman, Aubrey (Anna Camp, who looks every one of her thirty years--okay, sorry, I'll stop) is desperate to find new singers after she vomited on stage during the previous year's national championship performance. She and her second-in-command, Chloe (Brittany Snow), snatch up Aubrey and a gaggle of misfit freshmen who have no idea about the club's sunken reputation.

The newbies are the fetid stuffing in a central-casting cornucopia that will no doubt remind you of Revenge of the Nerds, Sorority Boys, or pretty much any college comedy made after Animal House. We meet the gay chick, the prim prude, the nympho, and, of course, the Mousy Asian with a Secret Wild Side.

Correction: Last week, I accused Charlyne Yi of playing the eight-millionth iteration of this offensively unfunny stereotype. But Pitch Perfect came out two months before This is 40, so all honors and benefits go to Hanna Mae Lee. Congratulations.

Oops! I left one stereotype unturned. She comes in the form of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), an overweight Australian student who continues the sad trend in recent comedies of obese women revelling in being gross, macho freaks (as written). I don't know if it started with Bridesmaids, but Melissa McCarthy is making such a great career out of being willfully repugnant that she now has imitators, apparently.

Like her new friend, Beca, Fat Amy sneers a lot, doesn't trust anyone who smiles regularly, and has a warped sense of her own attractiveness. It's one thing for an overweight character to be comfortable in their own body, but she actively avoids exercise and calls girls who have the audacity to work out "twig bitches". I'm sorry, but watching Wilson's upper legs constantly threaten to eclipse her knees in a slow-motion avalanche of fleshy porridge is disturbing; watching her promote the attitude that being fit (let alone healthy) somehow runs contrary to being "real" is disgusting.

I haven't gotten to the plot yet, but why bother? You know what's going to happen just as surely as I did five minutes into the movie. Beca meets a cute boy (Skylar Astin) who (SPOILER?) gets recruited by her team's biggest rival. This puts their young romance into immediate jeoparzzzzzz.

Meanwhile, Aubrey insists that her girls perform only safe standards from previous decades. Beca believes they need something edgy in order to win the fiercely competitive Lincoln Center finals, so she introduces mash-ups to the group--and to the universe, I guess, since Pitch Perfect seems to exist in a dimension without Glee.

Ahhh. I've made it this far without busting out the dreaded "g" word. If you've followed the hit TV series for any appreciable amount of time, I challenge you to watch Pitch Perfect and not think it a poor imitation. First off, Glee is a genuine musical, meaning that in addition to high school kids putting on performances, there are fantasy interludes and montages in which the songs serve a thematic, emotive purpose. All the songs in Jason Moore's film are functions of rehearsals or competitions, with no greater meaning to the song-and-dance routines. You may find emotional stakes in the predictable beats of Kay Cannon's screenplay, but not in the music itself.

Great songs (and even crappy pop tunes), when used properly in drama, can offer insight into a character, provide subtext for a story, or simply evoke the necessary emotions to put the cherry on a key scene. Pitch Perfect, with its mostly one-note, show-choir renditions of radio hitz, really does play like a two-hour karaoke jam buffered by teen-soap interstitials. In a weird way, it feels as though Moore, Cannon, and Universal Pictures were banking on Glee's popularity to put asses in seats, while simultaneously hoping that no one in the audience had ever watched the show.

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