Movie Review: Pentatonix: On My Way Home

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A documentary showing the tour life of a cappella music group Pentatonix, interspersed with anecdotes about the group’s journey.

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Devin Chanda, Matt Mitchenor & James Rothman, 2015

This film mostly documents Pentatonix’s sold-out 2015 American tour to promote their third album, PTX, Vol. III. The documentary combines behind the scenes antics, concert footage and talking-head interviews with home videos of the group’s early life. The narrative of the film tracks the group’s three founding members, Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstie Maldonado, as they make their way across the country to their home city of Arlington, Texas – a rather literal interpretation of the original song that provides the film with its title. The group discusses their formation – Hoying’s desire to compete on reality TV show The Sing-Off lead him to seek out bass Avi Kaplan and beatboxer Kevin Olusola, and together they went on to compete on and win the show – and their subsequent struggles to be taken seriously as an a cappella group in the world of pop music. The Grammy-winners look back on the tenacity that brought them back from obscurity in order to sell out a world tour.

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If anyone’s keeping track at home, this is the only movie that I’ve seen this year that’s made me cry. Of course, that’s not saying much, because I was overwhelmed with emotion just watching the videos that open the film, which feature all of the members of Pentatonix as children before they head out to see the stage for their new sold-out tour. I am a Pentatonix fan. And for whatever else this little tour film is, it is expert at manipulating the feelings of Pentatonix fans. The film largely consists of the group fooling around backstage and generally being adorable – there’s little if any conflict here. Most of the drama revolves around band members getting sick and the incredibly busy schedule that the group of five manage to keep, recording an album while on tour. Apart from a little stress at the beginning, though, the relentless optimism barely seems to make a dent in anyone’s smiles – or if it does, it happens off-camera. The balance of focus feels a little off – Avi and Scott are featured more than the other three, and the film can suffer from that lack of equality sometimes. It’s pretty clear that they don’t have the rights to a lot of footage under copyright, but they manage to use home videos to powerful effect. The story of their rise to fame suffers a little from the lack of video footage, but they make up for that with emotion as they talk about how their Sing-Off win lead to them being dumped by the label. Their determination to succeed lead them to use YouTube to release their music, dedicating themselves to arranging killer covers and eventually trying their hand at original music in order to build their fan base.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter that this documentary lacks narrative tension. It doesn’t matter that it’s basically a loosely constructed collection of cute behind the scenes moments, because it’s the cute behind the scenes moments that the fans want. And cute behind the scenes moments are something that Pentatonix are experts at providing. From Scott and Mitch’s tight friendship to Avi’s moments of startling gratitude and introspection to Kirstie’s bubbly appreciation for the fans and Kevin’s constant smiling optimism, they have the market on cute cornered. If the moment that they surprise angel-voiced assistant Mario Jose with the knowledge that he will be their opening act doesn’t make your heart swell, you might actually be dead. Pentatonix gush about their fans, make inside jokes, play silly games, and generally keep themselves entertained while the soundtrack plays lovely live recordings of their songs. And they’re stunningly talented. The film’s main storyline concludes on the title song, but they wisely choose to use the group’s best arrangement, a cover of Imogen Heap’s Aha!, over the final credits. If Mitch Grassi thrusting a hand in the air while belting out the high notes at the end of that song don’t leave you with a smile on your face, you have no soul. I’m not biased, I swear. Eh, who am I kidding, I’m completely biased and I loved watching these stupid cute talented weirdos be dorks while listening to their gorgeous voices. I could rave about them for another three paragraphs, but I’ll spare you. This is a film for fans, and as such, it provides. And so does this adorable gag reel. You’re welcome.

Pentatonix: On My Way Home on IMDb

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