Anna Kendrick movies: The good and the not so good

Spoiler alert in effect.

The first film I watched with Anna Kendrick was Up in the Air back in 2009. Her so called ‘break-out’ role, which earned her an Oscar nomination. Then of course she gained commercial success with the Pitch Perfect franchise. The following are just a selection of her movies. Not all are great, but some are truly brilliant. 

Pitch Perfect
Rating: Very Severe

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Having watched it a couple of years back without really paying much attention to it, I rewatched recently and I appreciated it much more the second time round. It’s the first movie in a while that really made me laugh like a pyscho, and not just once, but many times throughout the movie. I think it’s just a feel-good family-night-in movie, where you can just get lost in the humour and charm of the oddball characters. And the big drawing point for me was of course the singing. Not the typical musical singing, but acapella singing. It felt like this awesome and funnier combination of Step Up, High School Musical and Bring It On.

What makes this movie so watchable is the unique characters and quality of songs and singing. From Beca, the seemingly badass, too-cool-for-school wannabe DJ, to Fat Amy, to Bumper, to Chloe, they all have distinct personalities and quirks. The new generation of the Barden Bellas are these group of misfits who, over time, learn to accept each other’s differences and be able to work together to reclaim the national titles (for acapella singing of course). By the end of the film, you feel like you’ve taken this journey with them, from a bunch of college students who sing awkwardly to the somewhat sophisticated and respectable performance they give in the finals. You feel like a proud parent at the end of the movie and you’re sad to see them go (thank God for Pitch Perfect 2). I think it’s really refreshing to see a group of girls that work together and don’t bring each other down,  and it’s also nice to see a female in the main role having a powerful and influential part in the film. Gives the girls who watch it something to be inspired by.

In terms of the musical numbers, I pretty much enjoyed every musical piece, especially the finale performance. The choreography and singing is top notch and you can really see how much work they’ve put into rehearsals and how well they’ve learnt to work as a team. The arrangements and choice of songs are spot-on and they do a range of popular and older classics. The Bella’s performance in the finals is a great example of this, mashing up Jessie J’s “Price Tag”, Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” and the Breakfast Club score. 

This is definitely a classic and something I would watch over and over again. It’s just a heartwarming movie that always cheers me up. Highly recommend it. 

Pitch Perfect 2
Rating: Severe

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With the high expectations of Pitch Perfect, the sequel falls slightly flat (no pun intended). The songs are still great, but lack the originality and freshness of its predecessor. I preferred the song selection of the first movie more, in particular, the finale medley. The trump card this one has is the original song “Flashlight”, which brings an edge to not only the Barden Bella’s performance but also the movie itself. The newcomer Emily Junk, played by Hailee Steinfeld, brings a fresh face to the series, and her songwriting ability enables the Bellas to win the world championships. 

Like the first one, Beca seems distant from the group, this time pursuing her dream of becoming a music producer by going to an internship. She still seems to distance herself away from the group and is afraid to let the group know of her other commitments. While she has every right to do other things and pursue her dreams, she had the responsibility of telling her friends and I think once she realises that she doesn’t have to handle everything herself and she can share her problems with the Bellas, we really see the closeness and bond between the girls. 

This movie also hosted a number of cameos from all walks of life. There were the Green Bay Packers, Pentatonix, Jimmy Kimmel, many TV show hosts and Snoop Dog. You can definitely tell the budget has expanded for this sequel, stemming from the surprise success of the first. If I recall correctly, this movie made more in its opening weekend compared to its predecessor in its whole run. Truly amazing to see how it has struck a chord with the hearts of so many fans . It’s also very exciting to see Elizabeth Banks directing this time, taking over Jason Moore. With Kay Cannon still responsible for the script, this is a great female duo and hopefully a sign of more movies to be directed by females (who are grossly outnumbered by their male counterparts, don’t even get me started). 

Overall, this rates lower than the first because how can you possibly recreate the perfection of the first Pitch Perfect?

50/50
Rating: Mild

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I didn’t know much about this film before watching it, except that it deals with the sensitive topic of cancer. And while you may expect it to be your average “battling-with-cancer” movie, it’s so much more than that. Joseph Gordan Levitt does an amazing job portraying a character with spinal cancer. The underlying sarcasm his character has prevents the movie from being overly dreary and dry. This is obviously helped by his best friend as well, played by Seth Rogen. Anna Kendrick’s character plays the PhD therapist assigned to help Levitt’s character deal with the emotional side effects of having cancer. Her character starts off quite shaky and not confident in her abilities, with him being only her 3rd patient. After slowly building trust in their relationship, he has a breakdown before he goes into surgery to remove the tumour and confides in her. She admits that this has been tough for her too, as she realises that stuffing up her job could potentially kill someone. She visits him in the hospital afterwards and so starts the blossoming of their relationship. 

The acting is so well done in this movie, with great performances from all the cast. Levitt does a really good job in portraying a man who really tries to be decent and considerate, even when others around him seem not to, and you can really see him questioning the point of fighting the cancer. Kendrick does a magnificent job in playing a hesitant therapist who is trying her best to manage her nerves and project some confidence in her role, and you can really see that underneath, she is so nervous and unsure. And Rogen is so good at just playing himself. He tries to ignite some excitement in his friend and while he may act in his self-interest at times, underneath, he truly cares. 

The story itself doesn’t have much of a plot and just seems to follow the everyday struggles and achievements of a young man as he learns who his real friends are, what pain and loss is, and how new love can be found. It’s definitely an underrated film and everyone should definitely check it.

Happy Christmas
Rating: Mild

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So this is the first Joe Swanberg film I ever watched, and I guess it’s my first exposure to the so-called “mumblecore” genre. Out of the two I’ve watched so far (Drinking Buddies), this one is not as great. But it’s still a solid film and has a very unique shooting style and quality. It’s shot on a 16mm film, giving it that old-fashioned, grainy look that is typically associated with home videos. This really adds to the feel of authenticity and intimacy. This is combined with an improvised script, which is a trait of Swanberg’s films. You can really feel the difference in how the actors react to each other, and you can really see how each actor brings their own personality to the characters. I found this a really unique experience as you feel like you’re watching them in real life and getting a sneak peak into their lives. 

There’s not much of a plot, as is common with Swanberg’s other films, and really just follows the interaction between a brother and sister and those around them. It tells the tale of family, responsibility and friendship. Despite Anna Kendrick’s character being an immature, irresponsible and lazy younger sister, her brother and his wife, along with her friend, all still support her in the end and forgive her mistakes. She herself is not entirely flawed and you can see the internal struggle within to prove to others that she is not always unreliable, that deep down, she cares and is willing to try to help. But life often makes it difficult for her to do that, and she is stuck in the habit of reacting and dealing with a situation in the wrong way, for example, taking drugs or getting drunk. But as her friendship with her brother’s wife grows, you can see how she really attempts to help out and her good intentions behind it. 

Being my first exposure to Swanberg’s films, I found it relatively engaging, mostly through the cast’s solid performances and the feeling of authenticity they project. It was really endearing at times. There were some parts which dragged on a bit slow, since there wasn’t a plot to drive it along. But it provides a good commentary around family and friendship. I recommend watching Drinking Buddies first if you are interested in this particular genre of films.

Edit: I recently watched a third Swanberg film called Digging for Fire. Again, improvised script and a larger emphasis on dialogue compared to plot. I didn’t particular like it or felt engaged with it, perhaps because the subject matter wasn’t as relevant or appealing to me. But it received good reviews from critics, and if you like the genre, it’s still worth watching.

Drinking Buddies
Rating: Severe

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This was the second Swanberg film I watched and in my opinion, the better one. Perhaps it had more comedic relief, or maybe the characters were just more engaging and lively. Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson do an amazing job playing the two “drinking buddies” who both work at a beer production facility. It explores their friendship and the line that separates friends from “more than friends”. Can a guy and a girl really just be friends? This film says yes, so as long as certain lines are not crossed. Now, those lines aren’t clear cut and caution has to be taken from both parties. This is a very applicable situation that many people face, and this film provides a very interesting commentary on the issue. I believe that if the love between two people are strong enough, they will know what boundaries can be crossed and can resist the urge to cross them. Once this trust is established, its very possible to be close friends with the opposite gender. It’s interesting to see how the main characters’ significant others are the ones who cross this line by kissing. It is by the power of love and forgiveness that Johnson’s character is willing to overlook this and accept his girlfriend’s apology. What I think the film is saying is that people can make mistakes and if you have the guts to admit it and both parties really want the relationship to work, then you can overcome it and be a stronger person for that. 

The acting is again for the most part improvised, leading to a very natural feel to the dialogue. Each person really projects their character honestly and doesn’t feel confined to a particular stereotype. The actors are simply guided by rough boundaries surrounding their character and the general direction that Swanberg wishes the scene to go.

To finish off, I just want to mention that music plays such an important roles in films, in particular smaller independent films. They add to the emotion and body of the film without the need for over-the-top production sets or theatrics. Subtle but important. 

What To Expect When You’re Expecting
Rating: Very Mild

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I’ve heard about this movie a couple of years back when it initially came out and it just reminded me of films like Love Actually and Valentine’s Day. You know, the movies with many different story lines which are loosely interconnected, each one telling a slightly different take of a central concept. The central concept here is of course pregnancy and the various emotions and issues that arise around this. There are 5 different stories in this film, each unique to each other. It has a healthy mixture of comedy and drama, addressing some serious issues in between. I found that this movie actually slightly exceeded my expectations. I thought it would be some inappropriate comedy with little to no substance. But I was wrong. While there is still some crude jokes, there are a lot of serious issues that it covers. The most serious storyline would  the one involving Kendrick’s and Chace Crawford’s characters. After doing it one time, she falls pregnant and they both commit to having the baby. Unfortunately, she has a miscarriage and their relationship falls apart. Thankfully, at the end, they seem to reignite their connection. Other characters similarly face their own personal obstacles. Some are afraid of being a parent, some can’t have children, some have the weight of expectations from their parents. It does a pretty good job of interconnecting all these stories and ties off everything nicely in the end. 

While I do say that they exceeded my expectations (no pun intended), they cover the serious issues somewhat superficially and succinctly. This movie was based on a book of the same name, which I have never read, so I can’t say whether it was the movie or the book’s fault. This was obviously intended to be more of a comedic movie, drawing audiences with their ensemble cast, and adding drama into it to appeal to a wider audience. Interesting issues, but trying to address 5 of them in one movie is just too much. 

The Voices

Rating: Happy

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This is one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen in my life. The plot, the visuals, the dialogue, the ending. It’s so weird. And maybe some people see this as super artistic or modern, but I just really did not enjoy it. In fact, I was so grateful for the movie to end. I have to say it was a pain watching through this and there was several parts which I just fast forwarded. While it uses extremely bright colours, which suggests a happy comedic sort of film, it is so incredibly dark and wrong and sadistic. To be honest, this movie was only bearable because of Kendrick and the good-looking Ryan Reynold. When I finished watching it, I felt like I had just escaped from some weird, feverish dream and needed a while to get back to reality. It was stomach-churning at times and just cringeworthy at others. The acting was good, despite the strange plot and visuals, but not even that could save it. I mean, I do feel for Reynold’s character. He does have a mental illness and he has had to deal with very traumatic memories from his childhood. It does present an interesting light into the mind of someone suffering from mental illness, with his reality becoming what we see on the screen. And you can understand why he doesn’t want to take his medicine, because without them, he doesn’t have to feel the pain of the reality of life. This is perhaps the film’s only redeeming quality.

Discussion questions:
1. Is there any other Anna Kendrick movie that people recommend to watch?
2. Do you think she has the potential to win an Oscar someday?
3. Did anyone actually like The Voices???

 

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