Pondering Pitch Perfect

There are a couple minor moments in the movie Pitch Perfect that don’t work for me. One is when Jesse tells Beca what her problem is. While I am certain that he thinks he knows what her problem is, I am less convinced that he would be able, at age eighteen, to articulate it so clearly. And I am completely unconvinced that she would take it so well. Another moment I question is sheer volume of body fluids in a scene. If I am wrong, and that quantity is plausible, please, please, please don’t tell me.

There are other moments that a different audience might find harder to take. The uncanny ability of everyone in a group to know the lyrics, melody, harmony, and instrumentals for any song alluded to. (Unless the plot calls for everyone to be ignorant.) The uncanny ability to break into synchronized dancing. The uncanny ability to make every problem into a musical number of one sort or another.

These are not problems. They are genre conventions. I could no more object to these than I could object to super-uniforms made of unstable molecules, a dame walking into a dingy third-floor walk-up at dusk, or Gene Kelly pulling the perfect girl out of a crowd. Genre is as genre does.

There are other things that stood out for me for the stance they take in favor of truth over convention. Pitch Perfect is a story that allows for coincidence. It allows for loose ends. It allows the minor characters to have life that clearly is not impacted by the drama in the Lead’s life.

There is a thing that I distinctly recall from being eighteen years old. That thing is the complete certainty that the world was entirely about me and my problems. Pitch Perfect looks at this fallacy gently, but also firmly. It acknowledges and forgives the self-centeredness of the age, while demanding that people step outside of their own heads in order to work on repentance.

Everyone in this film can see some true things about the other characters, while being blind to some parts of themselves. Yet no-one is perfectly right about anything.

SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Here are some things I like:

1. The DJ eventually listens to and likes Beca’s music, after ignoring her for almost a month. I like this, a lot. I like that it doesn’t change her life overnight. The DJ is his own person, his own character, living his own life. He wasn’t snubbing her on purpose, she’s merely not a priority for him. But he wasn’t being mean. He did listen to her mixes, he did like them. And … that’s about it. She gets to DJ over spring break. No record deals, no agents. He is, after all, a college radio station DJ. That’s it. You get the sense that she’s grateful that she’ll be able to put the experience on her resume.

2. We never learn the tear-jerking-I’m-sure story of Aubrey and her father. We don’t need it, we know all that we need to for the movie. But there’s clearly an entire ‘nother story there. Pitch Perfect could have been from Aubrey’s point of view.

3. Similarly, the film could have been the heart-warming story of Benji. It’s not, but the movie clearly is aware of that other, hidden, narrative occurring on the margins.

4. Chloe clearly has sex with guys. Or, at least, the one guy. But she also strongly reminds me of a lot of women I knew in high school and college who identify as bisexual now. Here’s the thing I like: I like that this is never a point in the film. She’s just who and what she is, and whatever her sexual orientation may be or may become, those are part of her story. And this isn’t her story. Her story is on the margins.

5. I liked Beca’s character design. I mean, whatever that’s called when it’s real actors and not comics or cartoons. She’s got all the trappings of rebellion, but … but she’s actually pretty serious, motivated, goal-oriented, and on-track. She’s not lost, she’s angry. She doesn’t bite her nails, she keeps them really short because she types all the time and doesn’t want them in the way. She’s got a lot of piercings and tattoos, but hasn’t done any of them herself in the tv lounge at 1:30 a.m. while watching CBS’s Forever Knight.

6. Singing is, in this movie, an intimate act. Yes. Singing is, in fact, intimate. Particularly singing together, listening intently, matching pitch and tone and speed. You look at the other person, you put all your attention on them and into them, and if it all works right you create a fantastic piece of art together. One that, if no-one is around, is shared only by those who created it. And when done in front of an audience on stage, it’s performative intimacy. The audience is brought in, pulled to the inside of a shared act.

When this is done poorly — the Treble Tones singing “Whip It” — it’s masturbatory. It’s all about the awesomeness of the performer who knows that he or she is awesome and is asking to be appreciated. This is Doin It Rong.

When it’s done right

When it’s done right, singing together is better than perfectly decent sex. When it’s done right, the relationship between performer and audience is a bond that feeds both, giving each side strength, courage, purpose, hope, and joy. Pitch Perfect understands this.

7. I should note, before I finish this post, that this is a movie that is half about the variety of sorts of female friendships, and half about how goals — Nationals, a career, a boyfriend, whatever — fit into the uncertainty of a burgeoning adult life. I approve.

***

I suppose that what I really mean to say is this: I bought the soundtrack as I was walking out of the theater, and listened to it on the drive home. I was grinning the whole way.

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