When I overheard that killer house remix as Beca – your aspiring DJ – is tweaking it before heading off to college, my ears perk up as she packs up the laptop and gets into a cab. When she is unloading and the erstwhile a cappella nerd (who will later woo her) spontaneously sings some seventies rock out the window at her when his car pulls up, the thought flashes in my head that perhaps this won’t be so bad.
At this point, I am already mostly wrong. When it’s off to the dorm rooms the film establishes its M.O.! That M.O. is awkward moments and gag set pieces that work too hard for little to no humorous payoff and cast members that seem so undirected that they were more often than not guessing at what the script was trying to portray.
When we pick up the story with the collegiate a cappella finals from the year before, the audience gets to watch the Barden Bella’s group leader Chloe misstep a wee bit with some firehose projectile vomiting into the audience in the middle of the Bella’s performance. This is the official signal to let the cringing begin. Obviously, at the beginning of this new college year Chloe and her best perky friend Aubrey, played by Anna Camp, are the only two singers left standing and so the team must be built again from scratch.
As our lead Beca – played with a little bit of spark by Anna Kendrick – demonstrates she is only in college because her dad kind of forced her, Beca’s one note trope back story is established. As we move to the next trope of Chloe building the misfit Bella’s, culled from tryout cast offs, I am shaking my head a lot and looking down for a watch on my empty wrist. When the practices and the group drama builds to near unbearable levels, they try to toss in some decent local a cappella battles that leave me flat. It is at this point I realize I am now fully suffering from the aforementioned trite trope fatigue syndrome.
As I limp along with the rest of the film trying to avoid any debilitating ‘Bring It’ flashbacks, I am peripherally aware that in the few fleeting moments where this uninspired mess tries to show some heart, it is just inadvertently lost in the jumble of a story you have seen at least two or three thousand times before. When the Bella’s limp into the finals, the climactic final competition comes across as average. This is when I realize that this average film brutally suffers a death of mediocrity, not only because it underwhelms, but because it could have had potential and perhaps been something more.
I think of some recently watched performance movies that worked, such as the character study Little Voice or the nutty dance film Strictly Ballroom. In the case of the first it was the larger than life bodacious singer trapped in the meek girl’s body and in the second it was the tender ‘doing it for the love,’ of dance heart of the film, that flew into the face of the dance association’s political insanity. In both it was something that rose above the films trappings. You should have rose above, but you couldn’t get around the humor/a cappella roadblock.
Perhaps, contrary to that sage advice by Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder to “never go full retard,” you should have chosen a different tact and gone “full retard.”
I hate to say, but if we meet in public just act like you don’t know me. Thanks. Have a nice life.