Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pitch Perfect Review OR Hunter Blogs About Something Substantially

Hey everyone! it's been a while since I got in the groove of actually posting things of substance on the English Muffin Power Hour and I fear my blogging skills may have gone to rust. English Muffin scholars will point out that February is, indeed, my least favorite month of all time and for good reason. If you want those good reasons, you should definitely read my blog on the subject. I use the word "expatiate", it was a good time, a simpler time before graduate programs wanted me to write 12 pages on cross-cultural protein deficiencies as a cause of cannibalism.

Recently, I have been exposed to what the fine honey population called "the best film ever" and the dude population would call "a chick flick". I call it "the child of Mighty Ducks and Dodgeball raised by Glee" and what legitimate film critics call "Pitch Perfect". So I figure, why not review it?
The punchline is that it's rated PG but it sounds like an R rating. PUNS!

Did I like the movie at all? Nope! Review over! Let's go back to talking about swords and explosions!

Did Tony Stark invent the Arc Reactor by quitting early? No sir!
Fine, I'll go more in depth because Iron Man demands it. Pitch Perfect chronicles the journeys of Controlling Blonde Chick as she tries to rebuild her a capella squad from the ashes of an embarrassing performance in the national championship. Except its really about Brunette Hipster Chick as she tries to fulfill her dream of becoming a DJ or possibly a singer through the absurd route of joining a group dedicated to singing. Because how can you be a singer if you spend all your time singing?! They are joined by an omni-racial cast of one dimensional sidekicks such as the Fat Chick (called Fat Amy because SUBTLETY ), the Skank who only talks about how much sex she has and wears outfits that are more low cut than the protagonists, the quiet Asian who has no clear motivation to join an a capella group and the urban punk who they've arbitrarily declared to be a lesbian. Somehow this ragged band of misfits must pull together to win the big championship.

Sound familiar? It's because they stole the entire plot of The Mighty Ducks and changed the word "hockey" to "a cappella dance off" and the word "boys" to "college-aged teen girls". We have the coach who is haunted by a terrible mistake solely costing his team a championship in Emilio Estevez's character. You have the plucky underdog secondary protagonist who is taken under the coach's wing and becomes the star of the team in Charlie Conway. You have the fat kid who's not really good at sports but has to do it anyways in Goldberg. And you have the transformation of this ragged band of misfits learning to use their uniqueness to work together and form a team that is greater than the sum of its parts in a timeless kids' sports movie.

But it doesn't just rip off  The Mighty Ducks because it also has a decidedly irreverent, adult humor to it complete with sex jokes and gross out humor a long with a pair of sardonic announcers. That's right, Pitch Perfect also rips off Dodgeball, right down to having one of the characters being suspected of being a lesbian. At least in Dodgeball, it's due to the female protagonists surprisingly strong throwing arm and it's played very subtly throughout the film, until the ending when the running joke gets an appropriate punchline. Dodgeball also features a plucky band of misfits working together to become a team, but they're much more over the top and dysfunctional than The Mighty Ducks. Plus, you have a larger than life bad guy in Ben Stiller. It's a parody of movies like The Mighty Ducks and it works brilliantly.

"At Globos Gym, we're better than you and we know it!"
Now I've talked for over 500 words and I haven't really gotten to the core problem with Pitch Perfect. In my defense, I've been talking about other, better films instead that you should definitely see. The main problem Pitch Perfect has is identity. It tries to parrot two very successful sports film that are ultimately antithetical to each other. As a result, Pitch Perfect tries to make fun of itself while being serious and it just comes off as tepid and cliche.

Allow me to give an example. In the opening of Pitch Perfect, they show Controlling Blonde Chick in the International Championship when its time for her big solo that will win the contest. Except when she starts singing, she starts projectile vomiting all over the place and the announcers make fun of her (saying it was "a week's worth of lunch" displaying a disturbing lack of knowledge of how the digestive system works). The problem, aside from the cartoonishly stupid punchline (point in case, not even Shrek, a cartoon about a gross-out ogre makes that joke, but I am waaaay off topic), the problem with this scene is that it has contradictory emotions. If Controlling Blonde Chick is our Emilio Estevez counterpart, we should feel sympathy towards her when she blows the big game for her team. We can't feel sympathy for someone we're laughing at. The films asks you to feel both comedy and tragedy in the same scene and the result is just a pile of meaningless feeling.

The other problem is with the main character. Specifically, the film doesn't make up its mind as to who the main character is until 45 minutes in and it's not the person you spent most of the first 45 minutes with (i.e. Controlling Blonde Chick). Also, I realized I forgot to mention Crazy Redhead who, despite being a senior, is somehow living in the same residence hall as Brunette Hipster, but that's beside the point. The point is we spend most of the early film getting to know Controlling Blonde Chick and learning her hopes and dreams but then we shift to Hipster Brunette being the primary character and agent of change and she's not nearly so well developed as a character. This leads to there being a love triangle written so poorly that my female compatriot didn't even realize it was supposed to be a love triangle until I pointed it out. To be fair, I only noticed it because the Guy With a Six Pack takes off his shirt to reveal said six pack for no other reason than making the male lead (Hipster Guy Who Is WAAAAAY Too Into Breakfast Club But Also Likes "Carry On My Wayward Son" by Kansas So I Have Mixed Feelings About Him or just Hipster Guy for short) jealous.

Anyways, she really fails to carry the story because she's not that interesting of a character and generally just does whatever other characters tell her despite the attempt to make her sassy and independent. For example, she initially scorns the a capella group because you have to establish she is sassy and rebellious. But then Crazy Redhead bursts in on her while she's singing in the shower and, after doing a few sing alongs, convinces her to join the team. Because it turns out a major invasion of privacy, personal space, and ultimately sexual harassment (courtesy of Guy Who Is Never Seen Again) is the key to convincing Hipster Brunette to do anything.

I'd also like to expand of how Pitch Perfect is ultimately a sports movie for people who don't understand sports. For starters, you have rip-offs of the announcers from Dodgeball. But in Dodgeball, the announcers worked for ESPN 8: The Ocho, which serves as a clever joke on the oversaturation of sports news in the 21st century as well as explaining how the sport of dodgeball could possibly merit a televised competition. In Pitch Perfect, they just sort of exist to make snarky comments on the performances and provide exposition. The problem is they are inexplicably with the title characters during the district and regional tournaments as well as the national stage. Why are they following this one team everywhere? Is it because the executive producer (Elizabeth Banks) plays one of the announcers and she wanted more screen time? Plus, there's no real comedic chemistry between the two as they alternate being professional and serious. The key to the Dodgeball announcer chemistry is that one announcer was entirely too professional, giving layers of poetic phrasing to the game of dodgeball and having a comprehensive understanding and the other is an ignorant ex-jock who barely knows what's going on. The comedy comes from the contrasting styles of announcing that sports fans know is way too prevalent in real life (see Joe Buck partnered with Troy Aikman or any number of announcing duos; it's almost always an ex-journalist and an ex-jock). But Pitch Perfect doesn't really understand sports so hey, let's just have them do silly things!
It's only a matter of time before this is a real thing.

In fact, I'm going to make a list of things that happen in Pitch Perfect that make no real sense to anyone with a modicum of understanding of sports.

Things That Make No Sense in Pitch Perfect re: Sports and How They Are Evaluated

  1. Why is the championship co-ed? In the opening scene, the announcer says that the reason no all-female team has ever won is because they can't hit the low notes. So why isn't a capella dancing organized by gender like every other college sport if one gender has a tremendous advantage over the other? We don't make the women's basketball team compete against the men's team in the NCAA Championship.
  2. If it the International A Capella Championship is international, why do all of the events take place in America with American teams and American judges? It's not like calling yourself "the World Series" or some other exaggeration of the title, because those are premier professional sports that attract the best players from around the world.
  3. So the A Capella Dance-Off thing is clearly a collegiate event meant for amateurs, based off the fact that Elizabeth Banks disqualified the Sole Black Guy's team because he was not in college. This raises a series of questions without adequate answer: 1) Why were the announcers handing out sanctions? Isn't there a commissioner or governing body who handles these type of things? 2) How did they find out so quickly in the brief interim between Regionals and the Finals? Did you see how long it took for the NCAA to punish USC for paying their players? 3) Did anyone actually perform a routine background check to see if he was actually enrolled in the college he said he was?
  4. Why does one college have two teams participating in the tournament?
  5. Why are the teams student-run?
  6. Where did all the hot girls who could sing go? Clearly, Controlling Blonde Chick was unable to appeal to them during the extended sign up session after the prologue. But where did they go? They didn't join another team. Did they decide that singing wasn't there thing anymore? "Well I went to this expensive liberal art school for two years hoping to get a spot on the most prestigious girls team but that one girl embarrassed herself last year so I'm going to do something else with my life."
  7. Why were Controlling Blonde Chick and Crazy Redhead the only remaining members of the A Capella group? Are we to believe the team consisted of 6 seniors and 2 juniors in the prologue? That's just irresponsible!
  8. What manner of competition lets the top two teams advance every round of every tournament? It makes winning a tournament entirely pointless. There is no way Hipster Brunette's team should lose to Hipster Guy's team three times in a row and somehow be declared champion when they win one competition. There is no analogy for it in sports. The team has to win at some point before the championship to be in the championship!
  9. Why did the most junior member of the Sassy Dance Team, Hipster Brunette, immediately get selected as the new leader of the team? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense for leadership to be passed to the second most senior member who also was injured at the time and couldn't perform very well and was also established as being open to Hipster Brunette's ideas?
  10. Why did the two teams from the same college drive separate buses across campus? Wouldn't the university sponsor those buses?
  11. Why did members of the team have to drive the buses across country? Given that this is an official collegiate sport with a national championship and broadcast rights, why are you having your star athletes worry about things like driving and fueling up the bus? Are bus drivers really that expensive?
Things That Make No Sense in Pitch Perfect re: Character Development

  1. If the group of ragtag misfits didn't get along well in the beginning and refused to conform to Controlling Blonde Chick's ideas, why do they all dress up in her uniforms and sing her song perfectly? Because that makes it seem like they're functioning perfectly as a team to begin with. Is it so you didn't have to record a separate track from the one you sell on iTunes?
  2. Why did everyone really dig when the Sassy Dance Team performed in the National Championship in what amounted to half uniform, half street clothes? That looks sloppy and unprofessional. Imagine if the Duke Blue Devils showed up to the National Title Game in jeans and t-shirts. It would look like Coach K had lost control of the team. Once again, I draw comparison to The Mighty Ducks. They get nice new uniforms halfway through the movie and it serves as a rallying point for the Ducks. It provides them with a sense of identity they can be proud of. The coach finds out how to take their uniqueness and best use it for the team. That's what's beautiful about sports: it simultaneously emphasizes the group and the individual's role within the group. But I guess everyone should just do what they want when they feel like it and things will magically work out.
  3. If Controlling Blonde Chick's father is such a huge influence on her life, why do we never see a scene with them? First rule of theater: show, don't tell.
  4. Why did the Quiet Asian join the A Capella Team? I mean, besides to be an absurdist punchline to every joke. She doesn't like to perform or sing, so what does she get out of it? At least in the Mighty Ducks, you had the excuse of them being kids and being forced to do what their parents tell them. In Dodgeball, you had the motivation of saving the gym (and the group's identity) by winning the dodgeball tournament. What does Quiet Asian get out of the experience?
  5. Why does Hipster Brunette like The Breakfast Club so much the second time she watches it? I'm not entirely sure what event happened to make her decide that film was a great medium all of the sudden. Unless it was because she wanted to impress Hipster Guy all of the sudden. And then that makes her terrible and fake.
  6. Why is "Don't You Forget About Me", THE song of the 1980s, included in a mix that is about "21st century style"?
  7. Why is the male announcer declared to be a misogynist at the end? He said that the reason all-female teams couldn't win is because they couldn't hit the low notes. Then, through medical nonsense I don't believe for a second, Crazy Redhead is able to sing really low in the championship. In fact, they make a point of emphasizing it. So how is it sexist to give a perfectly valid reason why a team is failing only to have them win by addressing that failing in an unexpected way? Related note: the horrible implication of the Sassy Dance Team's victory is that at least one woman on the team should have surgery to alter the way she sounds so that her team can hit the low notes and win the championship.
  8. Why did Controlling Blonde Chick forbid all her teammates from having relationships with the all boys team? Is it long standing team policy? Is it her being controlling? Is there some reason she hates the boys team besides the fact they win? If so, I would have liked to see it because then it would give me a reason to care about what happens to Controlling Blonde Chick?
  9. Why does everyone bond over daddy issues in this film? It feels like they couldn't come up with any other motivation for their characters and just applied that motive to everyone.
  10. Why does the solitary Black Girl rap during her section of the A Capella Dance Off? Isn't there horribly stereotypical and borderline racist? For a film about tolerance and inclusion, people sure to stick to stereotype.
  11. You know, Emilio Estevez was also in The Breakfast Club? Perhaps this entire film was a love letter to Emilio Estevez. Is Elizabeth Banks in love with Emilio Estevez? Is that what this is?!

1 comment:

dmacbass said...

It seems like you watched this movie with your attention focused half on the screen, half somewhere else. Seriously, how does anyone with a fucking brain miss that Hipster Brunette was the main character? After Controlling Blonde Chick blows chunks and blows the championship, the focus immediately goes to Hipster Brunette and it stays there. When she joins Sassy Dance Team, the team's trials and tribulations are seen through her eyes and Controlling Blonde Chick is nothing more than her adversary. Did you even watch the movie with your eyes open?

Your criticism of Hipster Brunette being emotionally moved by the ending of The Breakfast Club is equally brainless. In an earlier scene between her and Hipster Guy, they talked extensively about her being bored with movies to the point of turning them off before the ending because all endings were boring and predictable in her eyes. Later on, she watches Breakfast Club from start to finish because she wants to see what Hipster Guy keeps going on about and her tears prove that she got his point. Seriously, how hard is that to understand? Anybody with an IQ of 20 should've been able to pick up on what that scene meant.

Your criticism of Smart-Ass Commentators and Quiet Asian ring true, but they're just played for comic relief. Realism doesn't take priority over laughs in a comedy. Now Crazy Redhead suddenly busting out Barry White notes...that stretched credibility to the breaking point. I would've rather seen them recruit one guy to do the bass.

All things considered, it's clear you went into this movie looking for anything you could possibly tear apart.