Organized Nerd Singing

28 Sep

Midway through Pitch Perfect, there’s a scene that’s symbolic of my feelings about the movie.

A group of older (i.e., 20- or 30-something) singers is performing in the hallway at an a cappella competition, and they’re mocked by the college kids because they’ve graduated and are still performing.

A cappella is a college thing, the students are saying, and anyone who’s into it after that is just lame. (They probably shouldn’t see the movie Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace.)

There you go: Apparently, you can be too old for a cappella. It’s a fact I learned for myself during my junior of college (I was a fan, not a performer). Since then, with the exception of Straight No Chaser’s two Christmas albums, I’ve still been able to appreciate it, but I just haven’t been as into a cappella music as I used to be.

So alright, Pitch Perfect is not a movie for my demographic. But it’s one that captures the moment in your life when a cappella is the be-all-end-all of the collegiate experience — the glories and the annoyances.

The movie tells the story of Beca, who reluctantly joins fictional Barden University’s prim-and-proper Bellas, even though she’d rather create mashups and pursue a career as a DJ. The Bellas always default to their safe song choices (Ace of Base’s “The Sign,” the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”), but taunting from their campus rivals (the all-male Treblemakers) and Beca’s persuasion lead the girls to loosen up and sing a different tune.

Skylar Astin plays Jesse, who calls a cappella “organized nerd singing” but joins the Treblemakers anyway, and falls for Beca along the way. Beca and Jesse see right through the ridiculousness of the a cappella culture and how these performers think they’re all that. They (or rather, Kendrick and Astin) help ground the film in some kind of authentic emotion and reality.

Not surprisingly, the movie has more than its share of cringe-worthy moments. But it also has its charms. Among them is the performance of Rebel Wilson (Bachelorette, Bridesmaids), who plays a saucy character named Fat Amy. She’d be self-deprecating if she didn’t have the confidence to believe every word she’s saying. Either way, she’s pretty funny — as are John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, who play commentators at the various a cappella competitions.

Kendrick and Astin have legit musical chops — she sang a movie-stealing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Camp, and he was one of the original cast members of Spring Awakening. It’s nice to see those talents on display here in songs like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” Cee-Lo Green’s “Bright Lights Bigger City,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone,” and a mashup of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and Nelly’s “Just a Dream.” (And just FYI, my high school classmate Tom Kitt had a hand in the musical arrangements.)

In the name of comedy, Pitch Perfect turns the whole a cappella scene into a joke where the characters are a little too into it; one of them is prone to adding “aca” to the beginning of words — as in “aca-awesome” and “aca-scuse me.” But it gets to be a bit much. Given that the movie was directed by Jason Moore, who was Tony-nominated for Avenue Q, and it’s based (loosely) on Mickey Rapkin’s book of the same name, it’s a shame that Pitch Perfect is not a sharper, funnier film.

On the other hand, it’s not a heavy-handed message movie like a big-screen version of Glee would have been. So there’s that.

For at least some folks, Pitch Perfect will speak to the rush of performing and adulation that gave so many kids their 15 minutes of fame back in the day. (Boston magazine wrote about it in an article about the Boston University Dear Abbeys a few years ago.) But the film’s appeal may be lost on everyone else for whom the appeal of a cappella music is long over.

I’m giving Pitch Perfect a B–.

You’re not still into a cappella music, are you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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One Response to “Organized Nerd Singing”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Summer’s Here, and So Are the Movies | Martin's Musings - June 1, 2015

    […] Pitch Perfect 2. Intermittently funny, obligatory sequel. Music was better in the first one. Even Anna Kendrick doesn’t seem to want to be in this one. […]

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