(On Cable TV, November 2016) Anyone wishing for a distaff counterpart to 2014’s That Awkward Moment will be fulfilled by How to be Single … although one wonders if anyone else will be. Squarely set in the “ensemble romantic comedy set in New York and featuring up-and-coming actors” sub-genre, How to be Single incoherently examines the life of young singles in contemporary NYC, going for comic set pieces, an uplifting ending, actors using their charm to salvage a subpar script and other familiar elements. Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie and Leslie Mann are the main characters, even though they get a lot of help from supporting players. The third act is a quasi-refreshing blend of relationships cut short, especially for the nominal main character who decides to go hiking rather than settle for unsatisfactory relationships. The film may or may not try to subvert the convention of romantic comedy, but it’s not too clear whether it wants to, or succumbs to expediency in order to wrap things up. It does have a few laughs; Rebel Wilson gets her share by playing essentially the same character as in the Pitch Perfect series, while Jason Mantzoukas makes a stronger impression than his limited screen time would suggest. Otherwise, it’s a mostly unremarkable film—funny while it plays, forgettable when it ends and not irritating enough to earn a bad review. At least the lead actresses get a paycheck, solidify their persona, prove that they can carry a movie and then move on to the next thing. It could have been worse.
(On Cable TV, May 2016) The original Pitch Perfect was an all-too-rare surprise: A crackling good movie disguised under less-than-promising clothing. It not only featured a number of great performances (notably a career-best role for Anna Kendrick and a breakout turn by Rebel Wilson), but managed to hit, at least three times, a quasi-magical state of pure joy. All of this to say that it set almost ridiculous expectations for its rapidly inevitable sequel. To its credit, Pitch Perfect 2 does try to replicate much of its predecessor’s highlights. We get the signing performances, the banter between the characters, a joyous song battle, an underdog competition and some hilariously inappropriate colour commentary. Elizabeth Banks does well at the helm, and the vast majority of the first film’s cast is back for more of the same. It succeeds at being a breezy comedy, toning down some of the original’s weaknesses (there aren’t that many vomit jokes, for one thing, and the romance is far funnier here) and maintaining much of the charm. It even throws in some fan-service homoeroticism for good measure. Pitch Perfect 2 is not, however, quite as surprising nor quite as successful as the original—something that should be considered inevitable rather than disappointing. Those who liked the first movie should at least keep this in mind: the sequel is a decent follow-up and it should flow well in a back-to-back viewing.
(On Cable TV, July 2013) Once in a while, a truly good teen comedy pops up and makes us forget about the mediocre rest. While Pitch Perfect stars college-aged young women rather that high-schoolers, it’s sufficiently close in tone to Bring it On and Mean Girls to warrant comparison… even though it may not quite be as completely successful as those two earlier films. Taking place in the world of college a capella groups (mining Mickey Rapkin’s non-fiction book for background, but not plot) Pitch Perfect is a contagiously enjoyable blend of comedy and music that presents a number of musical numbers and at least two showcase acting performances by young actresses. This is Anna Kendrick’s signature piece to date, as the lead role allows her to use both the sweet and sour side of her we’ve seen on-screen so far: she’s just wonderful, and she gets to sing/play along (witness her solo performance of “Cups / When I’m Gone”, burning up the charts as I write this.) Still, even a good performance gets overshadowed by a great one, and Pitch Perfect’s breakout star is Rebel Wilson, who transforms a potentially difficult role as an extrovert overweight girl into a scene-stealing blend of braggadocio, hilarity and inappropriate behavior. Coupled with a better-than-average script with a good density of one-liners, near-perfect editing, staggeringly enjoyable song/dance numbers and a tone that is heavy on pure joy (there are at least three moments of pure wide-smiled bliss in the film, and it’s hard to get even one in a single film these days), Pitch Perfect claims a strong place as one of the best comedies of the year. It’s not perfect, mind you: the graphic emphasis on vomiting is off-putting, the lead romance feels bland at best (there’s more chemistry between the protagonist and another female character), and the end of the film isn’t particularly good at tightening up all of the plot threads. Still, Pitch Perfect is distinctly better than a lot of other teenage comedies and remains surprisingly entertaining even for older viewers.
(Video on Demand, June 2013) The success of raunchy female-centric Bridesmaids has (sadly?) led to the realization that there was a market out there for crude R-rated comedies featuring uncouth damsels rather than frat-minded bros. This makes it easier for films like Bachelorette to be marketed: suggest that it’s kind-of-like The Hangover and Bridesmaids and, voila, instant interest. Fortunately, Bachelorette is a bit better than this capsule marketing tactic. Yes, it’s about a trio of disrespectable female leads doing bad things while on a wild night in town. But it’s written with quite a bit more wit than most comedies out there, and it dares takes chances with characters that aren’t made to be liked. Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher do great work here, and Rebel Wilson adds another good performance to a short but impressive list. What’s perhaps just as interesting are the subtle background choices made by writer/director Leslye Headland: A significant portion of the film takes place in a working strip club, for instance, and yet no nudity is shown. The male characters are interestingly flawed and don’t overshadow the female leads. This shouldn’t be revolutionary stuff, but in today’s comedy-film scene is almost feels as if it is. Offbeat without being disgusting, Bachelorette is worth a look for those looking for a bit of wit to go along their unglamorous comedies.