Glee Club, by David Bax
A particularly reviling bit of cynical zeitgeist-appropriation, Jason Moore’s Pitch Perfect attempts to both harpoon the success of television’s Glee and surf its wake to box office rewards. This shameless cake-having-and-eating is what betrays the film’s hollowness and ultimately damns it.
Anna Kendrick plays Beca (pronounced Becca), a college freshman who would rather be moving to Los Angeles to follow her music-producing dreams than wasting away in the pursuit of higher learning. Her father, a professor at the university, implores her to spend at least one year in school and, to prove that she’s giving it the literal old college try, to get involved in at least one school organization. Despite the fact that she immediately and rudely dismisses the a capella group, there are apparently zero other desirable outfits on campus and she quickly joins up.
As alluded to above, the song performances are a capella, which is true to the way real-life show choirs perform. Glee presents its club as essentially a karaoke team but Pitch Perfect is apparently committed to verisimilitude where this particular aspect is concerned. This leads to confusion when it becomes unclear whether the film is lampooning the Glee phenomenon for being lame or for getting it wrong. That aside, the songs themselves are generally entertaining and well done even if some of them are wholly unfamiliar (who the hell is David Guetta, now?). Moore at least chose wisely in borrowing from Glee the un-ironic exuberance of the performance aspect.
Among the less fortunate elements lifted from Ryan Murphy’s series is Pitch Perfect’s sense of humor. Just like on the television show, the jokes lunge desperately in the direction of the shocking and the outré but are so forced and toothless as to be generally embarrassing both for those on the screen and those looking at it. Rebel Wilson tries to pick up the slack but Moore relies on her improvisations to such an extent that the seams begin to show.
Also, when will comedic wannabes learn that the word “Jew” is not, in and of itself, a punchline? I made the same point in reviewing Seth MacFarlane’s Ted and I will continue to do so until it stops happening.
Pitch Perfect comes closest to redeeming itself in being a female-driven film that is not populated wholly by either platitudes about sisterhood or jealous catfights. To be sure, it has some of those things but Kay Cannon’s screenplay is mostly honest and straightforward about female friendships and relationships with men. Beca’s love interest is not the cliché of the perfect nice guy who was right in front of her the whole time. He can be a bit annoying and patronizing in the way of young college men who think they’re sensitive and egalitarian. Her reasons for resisting his advances are relatable and intelligent ones. And when he’s not around, she manages to think of other things. This film definitely passes the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Sadly, though, that aspect of the film is eventually paved over and forgotten. Always returning to the forefront are the tropes of easy, meaningless sarcasm and jokes that are more faux-outrageous than they are funny. While Glee can be reductive and heavy-handed in its messages, at least it believes in something. Pitch Perfect believes only in the opportunism of the moment.