I like movies. Always have. I see a lot of movies, and I hardly ever don’t enjoy them. Even when I see a really terrible movie–lookin’ at you, Taken 2!–I tend to enjoy it. There’s always something–a performance by a minor actor, some detail about the setting, something maybe a little innovative in the writing–to focus on.
Often, what’s fun is the artificiality of the world of the film, its complete divorce from reality. Such is the case with Pitch Perfect, a beautifully tasty little confection of a movie. It’s essentially an extended episode of Glee, only with twenty-eight year old actors playing freshmen in college instead of high school students. And the plot was so completely predictable, it was sort of reassuring and welcoming. You knpw nothing in the story is ever going to take you by surprise, and that frees you to enjoy the music and the comedy chops of the minor characters and the apple-cheeked American loveliness of its stars. Oh, and play ‘who’s that actor.’ Hey, that’s the girl from Harry’s Law! Oh, she was on that episode of The Good Wife! Career watching for fun and profit.
Pitch Perfect‘s about competitive a capella group singing, which means it’s essentially a sports movie. There’s a plucky underdog good team we root for and a villainous bad team we root against, and a final competition in which our heros (or in this case, heroines) have to rise above themselves and learn valuable and important Life Lessons before delivering a winningly transcendent performance. And so on. And fine, we heard some hummable songs and saw an imitation of human action, leading to a catharsis of pity and fear. Just like ol’ Aristotle prescribed.
But what stuck with me afterwards were two performances by minor characters, both of them so loopy and fun they made the movie. The Australian comedienne, Rebel Wilson, plays a girl named Fat Amy–later in the movie, she confesses, teary-eyed, that her real name is Fat Patricia–whose every line crackles with comic invention. Even lines that aren’t all that funny ended up hilarious. She doesn’t even sing all that well, but when she sings a big solo in competition, she sells the song so completely you don’t even notice the inadequacies of her voice. You just enjoy the performance.
And great as she is, she can’t top Hana Mae Lee, who plays Lily, a girl who joins the group despite being almost completely inaudible. Lee has big eyes and a tiny mouth, and though you can barely hear her lines, they’re hilarious. In one scene, the girls are comparing confessions, ‘I did such-and-such, I was mean to you, I’m so sorry’ kind of thing, and, cut to Lily, with those eyes, and she says, again almost inaudibly, “I ate my twin in utero.” I fell over. In my favorite moment in the movie, Lee falls on her back in a huge pool of vomit (don’t ask). She lays there for a second, covered in throw-up. Then, slowly and deliberately, she makes snow angels. Or, you know, barf angels. It was sort of gross and unwatchable, but also very funny.
I also must mention John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, as the announcers for the a capella competions. Higgins is, of course, a Christopher Guest ensemble member of long standing, and he and Banks essentially share the Fred Willard role in Best in Show, the thoroughly dimwitted ‘expert’ announcers. I would expect Higgins to nail that kind of part, but Elizabeth Banks was a comedic revelation.
The story: okay, like anyone cares, but Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a freshman at the fictional Barden University, a college known for excellence in a capella singing. She wants to be a DJ, and she spends her time on her computer doing mash-ups, a talent and vocation her father (John Benjamin Hickey), a Barden professor who has clearly not been reading his parenting manuals, discourages. But he agrees to let her quit college and move to LA and try to make it as a DJ, if she’ll just join one vocal ensemble for one year, and she picks the Bellas, perpetual second-place winners in national competitions. The Bellas are led by Aubrey (Anna Camp), whose not-so-secret disgrace involved propulsive vomiting on-stage during a national competition, and her sidekick Chloe (Brittany Snow), whose vocal nodes prevent her soloing. Beca is sort of alt-indie girl, which seems to mean having dark hair instead of blonde, and liking slightly cooler music than the other girls like; honestly, the ‘differences’ between her and Aubrey mostly come down to arguing over the somewhat staid vocal arrangements Aubrey prefers. Really, that’s the main conflict in the entire movie. And we know, of course, that control freak Aubrey will mellow some, and that Beca’s musical innovations will rule, which basically means they end up singing music from The Breakfast Club, a movie made before any of them were born, but whatever. And that Aubrey’s unfortunate malady will again recur, only it will bring them all together instead of apart.
Oh, and Beca will end up with the cool guy (Skylar Astin) she works with at the radio station.
Everyone in the movie was fine, and the screenplay had some wit, if not much invention, and the music was great. I really liked all the music, but then I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to a capella vocal music.
But the movie’s better than the sum of its parts. My wife and I really enjoyed it, a lot more than it probably deserved, and mostly it was because of Rebel Wilson and Hana Mae Lee. They were both wonderful, and saved what would otherwise have been a pretty pedestrian movie from its own ordinariness. That happens sometimes, and it’s kind of great when it does. So if you want to just go see, you know, a movie, not a work of art or a profound statement of the human condition, but just to pass a couple of hours agreeably, Pitch Perfect is right on key.