FLOOD – Mirror: “Pitch Perfect”

welcome to Mirrora monthly movie column in which I rewatch and then rewatch a movie I’ve already seen under the new (and improved?) critical lens of 2022. I’m so glad you’re here.

When my kids ask me what 2012 was like (a weird question, I know, but my unconceived future kids will surely be curious), I’ll just show them Perfect. The film is a time capsule of its era, which started as many trends as it borrowed – and with the next TV spin-off due in a few months, it’s worth remembering just how big this film was, topping a hundred million at the box office against a budget of $17 million. On re-watching, I found that as a movie, it’s just OK. But as a cultural artifact? Yes. I will say it. It’s perfect.

Let’s go back. In 2009, Joy premieres, and Anna Kendrick gets an Oscar nomination for In the air. At the end of the year, DJ Earworm uploaded his second “United State of Pop” mash-up, and it was this one that went super viral. Two years later, Bridesmaids (which introduced Rebel Wilson to America) is setting the stage for studios to bet big on female-led ensemble comedies, so in 2012 when it comes time to release Perfectit’s not billed as a teen movie about the joys of college friendship, but as a witty, gag-packed, slightly subversive, and actually cool comedy starring girl “hot approachable” and a guy from Workaholic. The message was clear: a cappella is for idiots, but Perfect is not.

The film, scripted by Kay Cannon and loosely based on a non-fiction book about college a cappella competitions, is in on the joke. A cappella is lame. It’s for losers. But within its ranks there are hot losers who make it look like fun and rude losers who suck. (Personally, I’m of the opinion that a cappella is great in college, and a huge red flag by the time you graduate. The same goes for short improvisation.) don’t ask to believe that a cappella rocks, necessarily, only that these groups focus on rock as much as the form allows. Usually it works, but sometimes it leans, like when Christopher Mintz-Plasse, at the head of the auditions, challenges more or less Joy to be too much about feelings. We hit it now, but these kids on Joy dealt with much more important things than anything that happens in Perfectso I’m not sure the comparison serves the film well.

Perfect is a time capsule of its era, one that started as many trends as it borrowed. On re-watching, I found that as a movie, it’s just OK. But as a cultural artifact? Yes. I will say it. It’s perfect.

Because the plot of Perfect is pretty cookie-cutter. In a moment reminiscent of Bridesmaids Food Poisoning Stage, University of Barden Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) blasts her team’s glory by vomiting on stage during the ICCA Nationals. Reduced to a year later, the Bellas must replenish their ranks with a ragtag crew of people, like Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), nearly-mute Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and Cynthia (Ester Dean). Initially, Beca (Kendrick) is reluctant to join, as she is too cool for school. Literally. Beca wants to move to Los Angeles to become a DJ, but her dad teaches Barden, so she has to go, at least for a year, even though she’s wearing eyeliner, bracelets, and a scowl.

Beca doesn’t like movies because they’re predictable. Beca likes to do mash-ups on her computer and that’s it. She’s pretty much the most annoying person you’ll meet in college, except her name is Anna Kendrick, so in that case, you don’t mind. Bella Chloe (Brittany Snow) ends up cornering Beca in the shower and convinces her to audition, and here we get the moment it would take Perfect from hit to heavyweight: the cup song.

Oh, don’t you remember the cup song? The fucking cup song? It was Kendrick doing that clap pattern that we all did at summer camp and sang, and it was such a hit that everyone learned it and performed it and Kendrick released it as a single and two little girls set “Call your girlfriend” on it and they or they went viral and the Washington Post written about how the kids kept doing it in the cafeteria.

It was the rare meme that went offline – the “Let It Go” of its day. And that’s not the only moment in the film that audiences ran with. “Fat Amy” was, for a time, hailed online as a body-positive heroine for embracing her waist and proudly “mermaid dancing” in front of “twig female dogs.” On Tumblr, young queer girls blasted Chloe and Beca hard (they have so much more chemistry than Beca and Jesse, it has to be said). On TikTok, you can find millennials who, despite their best efforts, know all about the “riff-off.” And as ironic as we were, there was a two-year period when, among friends, it was perfectly acceptable to ask, “Aca-scuse me?

Once Beca is a Bella, things go according to plan. The girls battle the all-male Treblemakers and overcome vocal nodules and self-doubt to triumphantly perform mash-ups arranged by Beca, who has, incidentally, learned that it’s okay to need other people. and got the guy (Skylar Astin). Oh, and that was the debut of a certain Ben Platt who, no kidding, got into college just as this movie premiered and joined my friend’s a cappella band and was… weird.

Some genres, like movies with big dance numbers, for example, are best seen in groups. A cappella, in particular, looks and sounds downright silly when watching a performance alone, but with an audience it can be charming.

In any event. Thanks to Wilson, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, and Adam DeVine, the movie is seriously funny. The songs, of course, are dated (also, is it just me or Beca’s mash-ups…bad?), and there’s a disappointing stereotype of any on-screen Asian (Beca’s roommate, Kimmy Jin, is a huge bitch for no reason?), but the rest of the jokes have aged so strangely that it’s kind of fascinating.

Culture is moving fast on college campuses; with a complete undergraduate turnover every four years, it doesn’t take long for something marginal to normalize. There are a number of references to various characters being lesbians, but I guess on most major campuses in Pennsylvania, where Barden is based, the girls would just hang out, if they even used labels. Jokes about “deaf Jews” might not fly in some circles, but seen another way, it’s a win for representation. “Fat Amy” was funny then…a few years later she would be an example of internalized self-hatred…so she would bravely take the word back…now what? That’s almost beside the point. Fatphobia is still rampant, but we also have Lizzo. On the other hand, Rebel Wilson isn’t even fat anymore. And speaking of singers, neither does Adele. Perfect that’s 10 years ago and a lifetime.

Thanks to its success, Perfect got two increasingly silly and star-studded sequels, and remained beloved by fans, mostly due to the cast’s off-screen antics. Just like the four women of Brotherhood of Traveling Pants, the Bellas are IRL friends. Elizabeth Banks directed the second installment, and there was even a Perfect wedding! (Skylar Astin and Anna Camp, now divorced). Now a spin-off on the Adam DeVine character. Maybe that will be fine. Maybe it will be great. But given Peacock’s track record, it’s unlikely to be a hit.

It’s telling that the show is streaming directly (as it was Girls5Evavery cut off from Perfectthe fabric). Could you even put a Perfect in broadcast, or in theaters, in 2022? Eurovision (which I really liked!) hit Netflix without much fanfare. Popstar: never stop, never stopreleased a year before the third Perfect, failed to catalyze the Lonely Island fanbase and flopped, despite being one of the best comedies of the century (really). It’s a shame, because while streaming can make movies more accessible, some genres, like movies with big dance numbers, for example, are best viewed in groups. A cappella, in particular, looks and sounds downright silly when watching a performance alone, but with an audience it can be charming.

Can’t say I miss the mug song. But, and maybe that says more about me than the movie, shortly after finishing my re-watch for this article, I decided I might as well watch the sequel. Florida