At the turn of the century, a little movie called Bring It On came out in theaters, offering the theater-going crowd a full length cinematic experience about the world of Cheerleading. It was an OK movie, and it was moderately successful… But in it’s wake, there would soon come a slew of awful direct to DVD sequels, Movies like Step up and Stick it tried to bring some much needed edge to this formula, but wound up being justt as terrible. We eventually got a TV series called Glee, which was promising at first, but quickly fell into the doldrums of focusing too heavily on it’s soundtrack and ampiifying the stereotypical aspects of of it’s characters to unspeakable levels.
In 2012, over a decade after the first film, a little movie called Pitch Perfect took the world by storm, offering a fresh take on the idea along with the first star-studded cast that the formula has had since the original Bring It On. It featured Rebel Wilson, who was a rising comedic actor, Anna Camp, who was famous for getting naked on stage with Harry Potter, and Anna Kendrick, who’d been a national treasure ever since her award nominations for Up In The Air, and who was the only good thing to come out of the Twilight movies aside from every single Kristen Stewart meme. And now, since the popularity of this movie is finally being dignified with a theatrical sequel, I’d say it’s time to take a look back at the little A Capella movie that could. This is Pitch Perfect.
The movie opens with a male a capella group called the Treblemakers singing back-up for the Universal logo… Which I guess is standard for these events… As we’re introduced right off the bat to one of the best things about this movie, as well as one of the worst. The former is the awesomeness of the musical performances. Throughout the film, the on stage musical numbers are very well choreographed, and beautifully sung by many talented actors, and it’s hard not to have fun while watching them. The latter is the commentators, but we’ll get to them later.
We meet the Barton Bellas, dressed up like Flight Attendants, slinging horrible insults at each other. They’re the first ever female group to make the finals, and it depresses me to say that their cleavage-baring fetish uniforms might have something to do with it. They start off strong, but a little lacking in flair and presence, until one of them spontaneously projectile vomits all over the stage and first three rows, bringing some rare genuine joy to Effie Trinket’s face. It’s not entirely her fault, though… Her acting coach DID say she should project more.
Four months later, we’re introduced to our main character, as well as a very tight focus on her black fingernails. Could she be a non-conformist who’s about to Robin Williams her way into an uptight circle that desperately needs to change? Nah, couldn’t be. She gets out of her Cab on a weird, alien planet that is College, and is instantly assaulted by the sight of a broey douche who looks like Dane Cook’s cousin singing to her and air-guitaring from a car window. Who is this guy? Well, he could just be a random person, but in a bad movie, the first opposite sex person our main character interacts with would be her love interest. We’ll see what happens.
So Beca and Window-Douche each meet their room-mates, both being stereotypical extremes of what we hope our room-mates in college won’t be like… One’s cold and unapproachable, which is supposed to make Beca look relatable by contrast, and one’s a huge Star Wars dork, which is supposed to make Douche look cool by contrast. We meet Beca’s Dad, who’s here to offer some exposition about our main character’s identity through awkward conversation, and… Can I just say what a bitch Beca is being? I know it’s intentional, as she has an arc and development and everything, but the dialogue here can NOT stop hammering in how much she resents her Dad for getting remarried, and he’s being pretty cool about her attitude.
It’s during this conversation that we’re introduced to the central plot and main conflict of the movie… Which I have so, so many problems with. Beca dreams of being a music producer, which means she has to move to LA to become a DJ. Her Dad won’t pay for this, he’ll only pay her way through college. First of all, is that how it works? Is there no other path to this goal? Aren’t there colleges out there with music production programs? Can’t she take all of her high-tech production equipment and start a Youtube channel, and maybe generate a fanbase from there? It’s not the worst way to be discovered.
And second of all… How can so many people relate to a character who’s main dilemma is “I’ve decided what I want to do with my life, but Daddy won’t pay for it”? Good movie characters struggle for what they want, and grow as a result. That’s why we root for them. There’s no way in hell a story about a protagonist who’s entire goal is to try and convince another person to validate her dreams should ever work. They should have called this “First World Problems The Movie.” I mean, I hate to sound like an old fogie, but GET A DAMN JOB AND MOVE THERE YOURSELF.
Beca goes to the School Activity fair, where her Asian room-mate applies to an Asian-based club. Great character writing, guys. We find the Treblemakers trying to recruit members by being obnoxious… Because the idea of being tactful would conflict with the idea of being one-note-antagonists… And after making fun of them, we jump to the Barden Bellas, who are down to two members. They try to recruit somebody who they made fun of in their prime because she had giant nipples. She shows off said nipples in a see-through shirt, which begs the question of just how many people she was intending to flash when she left the house that morning. I mean, I think I’m supposed to be wondering that, because I’m not laughing, or anything.
They meet Rebel Wilson, who tries to make the movie’s negative attitude about fat people feel subversive by making insults about herself and instantly assuming all the ‘skinny bitches’ will just make fun of her anyway. It doesn’t work for me, honestly, it just makes her feel abrasive right from the start. Beca finds the booth for the DJs club, which astoundingly stands for Deaf Jews, and Rebel makes fun of them. Yeah, real likeable. You know, just because she’s playing a character who’s in your face about being cruelly picked on doesn’t make it funny when she does it to others.
The Bellas notice Beca, and point out that she might be too alternative for them… Way to keep the foreshadowing subtle, guys… She leaves the booth feeling unimpressed, and Douche’s room-mate fanboys over the lead singer of the Treblemakers, who treats him like shit they just stepped in. Okay, seriously, why are they at this activity fair if they’re clearly not interested in engaging with fans or prospective members? It’s like the writers just put every effort into making this guy as irredeemable and unlikeable as humanly possibly. “Okay, we need people to hate this character… We need to have him act effeminate, insult everyone at every opportunity, and shake his chubby cheeks so the audience picks up on the fact that he’s chubby.”
Beca takes an internship at the school’s radio station, which is basically just a record archive with recording equipment, where Douche also applies. Yes, I know he has a name. It’s Window Douche. Yep… They’re really gonna be pushing this. We go through that same-old same-old kind of dialogue where the forced love interest, in one single conversation, breaks down all of the contrived traits that are supposed to make her guarded, along with a reference to She’s All That that’s somehow just as dated as the movie itself. Even die-hard fans of Pitch Perfect that I’ve spoken to tend to hate this sub-plot.
Beca’s Dad catches up with her back in her dorm, to find her skipping class, as the conflict between them gets picked back up. It’s here that one of the dumbest movie plots I’ve ever heard is introduced… He tells her that if she joins just one club, and still hates her college experience at the end of the year, he’ll give up and pay for her to move to LA. Yep… It’s all hinging on a club. Just spend a year here, and join a club. Never mind the fact that she may be wasting his money by not attending class in the first place… Seriously, we know she’s skipping in this scene, and we never see her in any class for the rest of the movie, so it’s entirely possible that she’s just living in the dorm off of his money… His belief in the importance of her future comes down to her time in a single club. Which, like her classes, he won’t know if she’s even attending.
She goes to take a shower, singing a David Guetta song… Which I’m sure is supposed to be symbollic of how hollow and artificial she is… Before she’s barged in on by the second in command of the Bellas, who tries to recruit her on the spot for her singing skills. They sing together, and then a naked guy brazenly walks in on them, and… You know what? If she’s trying to convince her Dad to forget their bet and pull her out of college right now, that’s a good story to lead off with. Just saying. It’s another moment so bizarrely unfunny that it makes me think of these things. I mean, it’s a pretty rapey scene, right? I’m not the only one who sees that, am I?
She goes to auditions, and after we’re done seeing McLovin’ mug for the camera, the game is on! We get a montage of every contestant on their own somehow forming an a capella version of Since U Been Gone, showcasing how they’re all terrible in their own way. Beca comes in just in time to make the audition WITHOUT being associated with that trainwreck of a marathon, and does the performance of Cups that everyone’s fallen in love with. And rightfully so, it is pretty awesome. Too bad none of her competitors knew that option was available.
The Bellas are so strapped for members that every single woman who showed up makes it in… Making me wonder why they bothered with the auditions in the first place… While Douche and some other guy are the only ones who made it into The Treblemakers. I guess the people they were nice to had better things to do. The Bellas are forced to promise to never have sexual relations with a Treblemaker… Which is petty and forced, but it at least adds a Romeo and Juliet undertone to Beca and Douche’s inevitable, predictable romantic tension.
They go to a mixer where the A capella groups and their new members get drunk together, and nothing important or funny happens aside from the implication that the black Bella might be gay. We see the first Bellas meeting, where one of the girls gets kicked out for sucking some dude’s cock-apella, and Beca comments on the fact that the Bellas never sing any songs made before the turn of the century. This is obviously going to be a huge plot point, so let’s see what kind of songs she challenges this tradition with throughout the movie. Because if Bulletproof is the best she’s got, I’m not feeling compelled.
We get a montage highlighting all of the girls and their differences… We get Rebel Wilson trying to be charming, the ambiguous lesbian staring at the other girls like a tactless truck driver, the oversexed girl learning not to play with her body mid-song, the asian girl saying things really quietly, and the skateboarder learning to live without her shrimp costume. I may have made one of those up out of boredom. Also, they throw in A capella related puns to try and en-cheer-tain us.
Some very painful stuff happens… The Bellas are still a trainwreck, one of them has Nodes, and Douche hasn’t realized how many fish there are in the sea… And Beca hands her demo over to the guy in charge of the Radio station. Which is entirely pointless, as it doesn’t involve moving to LA to become a DJ, so it can’t possibly lead anywhere.
Douche tries to get to Beca’s heart through movies, which Beca hates. Yup. She hates movies, because they’re too cliched and predictable. More on this in a minute, but first, we get to an event called the “Riff-off,” where each A capella team competes with each other through song, improvising their performances and constantly cutting each other off until Beca stuns everyone by rapping, and this is really stupid because… Umm… Which is really awful, because… Okay, I got nothin. The riff-off is awesome. The way they lose is stupid, and hearing Anna Kendrick rap is awkward, but it’s a cool kind of awkward, and it’s the best scene in the movie, featuring the only believable romantic exchange between Beca and Douche.
Which is ruined when the movie thing comes up again. Douche makes her watch Breakfast Club, which later will bring her to tears and OH DEAR GOD, give up on this character already! Is this really the best you can do to try and bring these two together? This little sub-plot has literally nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and in fact, I can prove it. Replace movies with yogurt. “Oh, you don’t like yogurt? Then you’ve clearly never tried Pina Colada flavored.” “Oh my god… This is the best yogurt ever… I feel so much more connected to you now!” What, was the screen-writer a John Hughes fan or something?
Cut back to the leader of the group being an uptight nightmare… Which I’ve been nice enough to not mention until now… And refusing to try anything new, and if Beca had any material to offer other than Bulletproof, I’d possibly care enough to pick a side in this argument. We meet an A capella group that’s singing with sock puppets… Which is a compelling argument for not trying anything new, if I ever heard one… And the Bellas take the stage once again, as Rebel Wilson strips a bit at the end.
So, can we talk about those commentators for a moment? I feel like this is the right place to do so. Apparently, these A capella performances have their own commentator team. And it’s their job to make inappropriate, sexually-suggestive, and borderline abusive comments while people on stage are trying to concentrate, also while their relatives and loved ones are sitting in the audience hearing every word of it. If you think this is funny, then I have some unfortunate news for you… Bullying and suicide among students is kind of a thing right now. Campaigns against hurtful behavior towards others has been sweeping our country for a few years now, so I find it incredibly unlikely that any school… College or otherwise… Would willingly be associated with these two assholes.
Also, since nobody ever visibly reacts to them, I’m pretty sure they were added in after filming wrapped because the producers felt the movie wasn’t mean-spirited enough. I have no evidence of that, though… Just a feeling.
In any case, The Treblemakers are up next, and the cavalcade of recent musical embarrassments continues as they of course sing Flo Rida’s Right Round. I’m not saying hearing the original DOA song here would have made me enjoy the movie, but it would have woken me the hell up. In any case, the Bellas reach second place, beating out the sock puppets… Way to step over the bar… Qualifying them for the next gig, and giving the movie a reason to continue. Damn it.
Dr. Turkleton starts a fight with the Treblemakers, which escalates into a broken window and the trophy being destroyed. Beca gets arrested, and her father judges the hell out of her without asking her side of the story, instead immediately revoking his offer to pay her way to LA. You know, just so the audience doesn’t still think that’s why she’s here. It’s not subtle, but that’s about par for the course. Beca goes back to the Bellas, who are all on her side about changing things… Except for their stuck-up cheer-tator. Oh, and if the fact that Beca’s entire dream-career doesn’t matter anymore hasn’t sunk in for you yet, the Radio guy offers her a huge opportunity, which she turns down. The fact that he played her remixed version of bulletproof on the radio without any copy-right issues is glossed over.
The Treblemakers throw food at Rebel from their bus… Somehow hitting her from a great distance… And the ambiguous lesbian tries to take it as an excuse to make out with her. Because that’s how this movie thinks gay people show their affections, apparently. And then we see THEM on a bus together. They sing Party In The USA by Miley Cyrus… Because remember, old music is really lame compared to today’s modern classics, you guys… Before the bus runs out of gas, forcing them to call the burrito delivery service to help them out.
They make it to the semi-finals, where Beca tries to spice up their boring routine with some lines from Bulletproof. Yeah, have you ever interacted with somebody who relentlessly tried to plug the one thing they’re crazy about into everything? Like someone who inserts Obama complaints into every conversation they have? Or someone who wants every one of their friends to check out My Little Pony? Beca is apparently that kind of person, only with David Guetta. “No, you guys, this thing would be totally better if there were references to the thing I love in it!” Captain chews her out for it, and of course Douche gets dragged into this squabble. She snaps at him and then quits, Douche looks like he’s gonna cry, and I think I’m supposed to feel something here, but all I can think about is “What has Star Wars guy been doing this entire movie, and why is he wearing a head-set right now? Is he the sound guy, or something? How’d that happen?” My attention may be a little off.
The Bellas do not advance, which of course means they have a lot of time to reflect on their errors and try to do better next year without Captain and the Guetta-fangirl weighing them down. Beca drowns her problems in music, Douche forgets how to eat breakfast, She cries over Breakfast club, BUY AN APPLE COMPUTER, and the two asshole commentators do the first professional thing they’ve done all movie… Barring one of the A capella groups from competition for not actually being in college, which means the Bellas are back in! Wow, I don’t know what Beca was talking about earlier, with movies having contrived, cliched, predictable coincidences… This is just a gold mine of great writing.
With hope restored, The Bellas get back together, and through the incredibly healing powers of Pina Colada yogurt… I mean John Hughes… Beca begins to mend her burnt bridges. Douche has been ignoring Beca’s messages. My god, what is it with love interests in female-led movies being so easily offended? I mean he’s not as bad about it as beard-face from Camp Takota, and this guy’s situation is a bit more understandable considering how long he’s been chasing this girl, but seriously, grow a pair and some thicker skin to go with it! Aren’t there other women out there? Like, somebody more pleasant to be around? Or are you just going to sit around and shovel down pop-corn until this one person comes around?
Back to the Bellas, they’re missing their Punk Princess Prophet, and Captain tight-ass is losing their respect because of it. Beca patches things up with her dad… Kinda… And we then see all the Treblemakers in a hot-tub together, with miserable looking, barely dressed women dusting stuff in the background. Their Hitler-wannabee leader leaves them to pursue an actual career… Damn that traitor, thinking of his future at a time like this! Douche takes over, and his room-mate joins the team. Lovely.
The Bellas implode, and their captain throws up half of her body-weight, they all fight, the ambiguous lesbian fondles a girls’ boobs, the asian girl makes a puke-angel, and… Aspiring screenwriters, please, please don’t take any of this as an example of how to complete a character arc. Just don’t. The less I ever see this kind of thing in the future, the better. Following all this chaos, Beca comes back, uniting the apostles once again. They all go around the room telling personal secrets about themselves, with the black girl admitting to being a gambling lesbian, and while those two secrets may sound kind of random, the writers needed to give her two traits that aren’t commonly associated with black stereotypes in order to make up for the fact that they make her rap at the end.
Also, now that she’s actually confirmed to be gay… with a serious-sounding girlfriend and everything… Her behavior towards the other girls throughout the movie goes from mildly problematic to extremely uncomfortable. I mean, seriously, does the whole ‘predatory queer’ archetype ever get written by people who know any actual gay people in real life? Because if you’re trying to figure out how to write one properly, here’s a clue: They’re normal people. Write them as normal people. If the only gay character in your story is also the only grope-crazy one, that’s a really revealing statistic.
In any case, only five girls get to share their secrets, which is a shame, because I really wanted to hear the Captain say what the Elder Wand looked like up close. She hands control over to Beca, and they sing one of the only passable Bruno Mars songs, while one of them just looks like she’s chewing gum in a few shots.
The finals begin, Beca and Douche are reunited, and we have another few of the admittedly impressive musical numbers that HAVE to be what made this movie successful in the first place. The Bellas get to perform seven songs to the Treblemakers’ three, which seems kind of unfair when you think about it… So don’t think about it, I guess! They insert “Don’t You forget About Me” into the number, which is supposed to A: Be the big emotional relationship moment and B: Make John Hughes appreciate the screenwriter from the afterlife. I doubt he cares.
They use a Pitbull song, because of fucking course they do, and they make the black girl rap to compete with Glee’s gospel singing black girl. It’s like they’ve gone from a riff-off to a racism-off. At least they kept Guetta out of it. They finish their routine, and… Well, I hate to say it, but their older boring routine was better. Yeah, this one had more energy, but it was also unfocused and all over the place, with little cohesion between the songs they chose. Which kind of makes it the perfect way to end a movie that was unfocused and all over the place, with little cohesion in any of it.
The Bellas win, the commentators blatantly point out how non-misogynist the movie is being, Beca kisses douche, and six months later, Beca has taken over for the departed captain, bringing tone of the most popular movies of 2012 to a close. How’d it hold up?
Well, let’s put it this way… I’ve seen this movie twice, with almost three years separating each viewing, and I didn’t laugh once throughout either viewing. Do I still hate it as much as I did in 2012? No… I mean, it’s awful, but I’m finally willing to admit that Silent Hill Revelations was worse. I paid closer attention to it this time around, so a few things make more sense to me, and Douche doesn’t feel nearly as forced as it used to.
But other than that, I’ve still got the same complaints. There are way too many stereotypes, several characters could have easily been swapped out without anything other than their specific dialogue having to change, and there are so many scenes and moments that go absolutely nowhere. Rebel Wilson was insufferable, and seemed to have no identity outside of self-referential jokes and mean comments about other people. That’s not to say she was weighed down by bad writing… Oh no, her delivery had no chance of being the saving grace of anything. Skylar Astin had the charisma of a dead fish throughout the entire movie.
Aside from those two, the acting is pretty damn good, but the characters themselves are rarely likeable. The musical numbers are a lot of fun, but the songs they chose are so lazy and calculated that they already make the movie feel dated less than three years later. I mean, it tries to push the idea that newer music is somehow better than older music, and I can see a compelling argument being made for that, but when your examples include artists like Miley Cyrus, David Guetta, Pit Bull and Flo Rida, you make it sound like all you did was pick a few titles off of a collection of Kids Bop CDs and said “That’s what the kids are listening to!”
So no, it’s not as bad as I remember it being, but it’s still really bad. I have no idea how it got to be so popular, or how it ever evolved to be anything other than maybe a cult favorite… I don’t get the critical appraise, I don’t get the financial success… Hell, I don’t even know who this movie was for. It’s clearly meant to be some kind of parody of the Bring It On formula, but it’s too goofy and over-the-top to be a satire, and it takes itself too seriously to be a spoof. Either wat, I’m glad this review is done, and all my thoughts on it are off my chest, so I never have to think about this movie… Or see the sequel… Ever again.