Despite nearing 1,000 reviews on The Legionnaire, if you were to give me a film title, I could tell you whether or not there is a write up about it. This is helped by the fact that I have posted each one with these tired old hands of mine. I also pride myself on my ability to recall things of that nature. As such, when I went to view Pitch Perfect (2012) recently, I did so on a night when I was not watching something that would eventually become an entry on this blog. I do this mostly on evenings when I am working on other matters, and I want something on in the background to distract me. I also chose this film because if you had asked me whether it appears on my little cinematic and Faith-filled outlet, I would have told you that, of course, it has been covered. Armed with that knowledge, not long thereafter I put on Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) and Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), proceeding to produce reviews on them. This morning, as I went to post Pitch Perfect 2, it came to my attention that I had not treated the original Pitch Perfect. This is me making up for that oversight.
The title Pitch Perfect refers to the aim of every a cappella group. The one this movie focuses on are the Barden Bellas of Barden University. They are competing at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) and one of their rising stars and future captain, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), barfs all over the first few rows of the audience when it comes time for her solo. Regardless of this unfortunate occurrence, it is up to her to build the next great group of all female singers to represent Barden University as Bellas. This is nowhere on the radar of incoming freshman and aspiring music producer Becca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick). Indeed, she would rather move to Los Angeles and forego college altogether to start her career. However, her father, Dr. Mitchell (John Benjamin Hickey), insists that she complete one year of course work, for free given his status as a member of the faculty, before she goes after her own pursuits. As part of this ultimatum, Becca must give the collegiate experience a fair try. This means taking part in extra-curricular activities, and this brings her to Aubrey. At first, Aubrey dismisses Becca as an “alt-girl” and readily dismisses the freshman. Becca, thinking a cappella kind of lame anyway, moves on with her life. What changes is when Aubrey’s only holdover Bella, Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), hears Becca sing in the shower and insists she audition. The less said about this scene, the better. Even though their introduction is a bit awkward, Becca earns a spot on the Bellas and goes through their Greek life-like initiation rituals. One of the rules is that the Bellas are not allowed under any circumstances to date a member of the Treblemakers, the all-male rival a cappella unit on campus, who have also won the ICCAs many years running. This becomes more of an issue as one of the newest Treblemakers, Jesse Swanson (Skylar Astin), is developing a crush on Becca. For the moment, Becca is acting like it all is a minor nuisance, even Jesse’s interest. This last bit is made all the more difficult as they are each doing an internship at the school’s radio station. As for the singing, the turning point for Becca comes when the Bellas are invited to compete against the other Barden University a cappella teams in a “riff-off,” where they take turns singing songs based on a theme and find ways to cut into one another’s performances. As it proceeds, it becomes evident to Becca that what they are doing is not too different than the mixes and mash-ups she does of various songs. Hence, even though it ends up getting the Bellas disqualified, she gleefully jumps in with a rendition of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet. It earns her the admiration of her peers, but draws the ire of Aubrey. The captain has what she believes a tried-and-true formula for getting the Bellas to the ICCAs. Becca chafes against this rigid structure. During one of their performances, she looks out at the crowd and sees them steadily losing interest as they deliver the same worn-out song and dance routine that is all too familiar. Becca’s improvisation gets her kicked out of the group. A fight unrelated to them also gets her arrested. When she gets out of jail, it is to see Jesse waiting outside for her, the result of some of the more intimate moments he had managed with her while trying to get her interested in movies. The problem for her, though, is that Jesse had called her dad, and it leads to any good will between them being forgotten in her frustration. Her mind is changed when she watches The Breakfast Club (1985), a movie they had watched together. She is moved by its message of individuals getting along and decides to make amends. She approaches the Bellas to apologize, and finds them in full on revolt against Aubrey. Her appearance makes Aubrey realize that she had been too hard on everyone, particularly Becca, and they reunite. They do so in time to take part in the ICCAs. Taking a little inspiration from everyone in the group, Becca arranges a set for them that not only wins them the crown, but also shows her remorse to Jesse by incorporating “Don’t You (Forget About Me” by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club. With everything settled, we end with Becca and the remaining Bellas proudly displaying their trophy as they begin auditioning the next round of a cappella singers.
Pitch Perfect is a pretty humorous movie, even if there are moments when it relies a little too much on inappropriateness for laughs. This includes the fat shaming that goes on with Patricia “Fat Amy” Hobart (Rebel Wilson). I am not sure what to make of this in general as she seems to be an accomplice to these jokes. Either way, I would rather not see that brand of humor, or some of the other material used. One aspect of using a character like Fat Amy for comedic purposes is that it takes somebody being self-aware. That concept carries a lot of moral and philosophical weight in our modern culture. We are constantly told that we need to know ourselves, to get in touch with our feelings, or whatever the new term these days is for what seems to be a bunch of new age mumbo jumbo. Unsurprisingly, Faith has a different take on this concept. If there is one immutable truth, it is that we can never know ourselves as fully as does God. This is not even a solely Christian concept as deities in other traditions are conceived of having the same level of familiarity with humanity. Of course, as a practicing Catholic, and one who believes it to be the true path, I am here to tell you there is a little more cache to what the Church teaches. To be fair, there is nothing wrong with exploring who we are as individuals. God made us unique from one another, and a great deal of this exploration involves coming into the abundant gifts with which we have been blessed from the moment of our conception. There is a tipping point, however, when turning inward becomes self-indulgent. We are called upon to use our gifts for the benefit of others, not simply to satisfy some potentially illusory inner need. One can see this in Becca. There is no denying her talent, and it is a blessing if I ever saw one. Yet, when she gets to Barden, she wants nothing to do with any of her peers. Much of the film is her learning to share her gifts. Yes, it is all wrapped in a chuckle-fest, but there is some real value to her transformation.
It is because of that value that I will probably watch Pitch Perfect again some night when I want to have something on the television but have other work to complete. It is great in this regard because I can block out the parts of it I would rather forget are in it. The good outweigh the bad here, and this includes one of the side characters, Benji Applebaum (Ben Platt). He is bullied for much of the film for his nerdiness, but gets an opportunity to shine at the end. What more could one want from a movie?
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