The good news is that Glee has not ruined a cappella singing-centric entertainment. The better news is that first-time feature director Jason Moore‘s Pitch Perfect nearly resurrects the entire mini-genre, thanks to a game cast and a relentlessly fun energy. Yes, Pitch Perfect is about competitive collegiate a cappella groups that have group names like “The Treblemakers” and yes, there’s a truly unexpected amount of vomit present and yes, one character insists on prefacing nearly all of her sentences with an “a ca-” (“a ca-awesome!” “a ca-what?”), and yes, the whole thing should be just awful and ear-splitting.
But it’s not. Pitch Perfect is instead not only a fresh and funny spin on the musical genre, it’s also just damn funny on its own, one of the true comedic gems to come out of the studio system this year (remember how we all doubted 21 Jump Street? It’s like that).
The plot of Pitch Perfect is slim and appropriately breezy. College freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick, once again proving why every girl with half a brain would want her to be their real-life best friend) isn’t sold on the whole higher education thing. In fact, she’s not sold on much – including her family, having friends, or going to class. Beca is much more interested in crafting mashups on her computer (mashups, for those of us over age 17, are “song[s] or composition[s] created by blending two or more pre-recorded songs, usually by overlaying the vocal track of one song seamlessly over the instrumental track of another,” or so Wikipedia tells us) and planning ways to convince her dad to let her leave school so she can go to LA to “pay her dues” and presumably make it as some sort of mashup artist (okay, she wants to be a music supervisor, basically). Sadly, Beca’s pops just so happens to be a professor at her school, which means he’s in the unique position of being able to give her wacky ultimatum and holding her to it.
The plan? Beca has to try – really try - to enjoy college for a year. If after that year, she’s still not on board with university life, her dad will help her move to LA. Of course, Beca joins an a cappella group, The Bellas. Oh, The Bellas. We meet them first – straitlaced good girls who’ve yakked all over (literally) their chances of beating out their rival (male) a cappella group, The Treblemakers, in competition and who are in major need of some spice. Enter Beca and a whole mess of also-rans, weirdos, and freaks, and you’ve got the new Bellas, much to the chagrin of the last of their old guard, Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp). You’ve also got a pretty great string of montages.
You probably know where this is going. The Bellas experience some major problems, the least of which being Beca’s growing attachment to a forbidden Treblemaker (the darling Skylar Astin), and there’s just a ton of singing and dancing and even, yup, some mashing. Yet that doesn’t quite explain just how joyously fun Pitch Perfect is. It zings and it sings and, if this movie cannot coax a smile (or twenty) out of your face, you might need to re-evaluate what it is you want out of musical cinema, because Pitch Perfect really does have it all.
And, while the film definitely exists within the expected framework of such a genre picture, Pitch Perfect isn’t afraid to throw a couple of curveballs and subvert expectations on occasion. In terms of both plot (a neatly set up possible rival love interest doesn’t pan out, Beca doesn’t ditch out on the Bellas when a “better” offer comes up) and gags (“missing” co-stars acknowledge that they’ve “been here the whole time!”), the film surprises just as often as it goes along with expected conventions, and it fits together admirably (and mostly harmoniously) well.
Star Kendrick is joined by a large cast of (sometimes-disappearing) all-singing, all-dancing cohorts, but she’s matched at every turn by the increasingly reliable comedic chops of Rebel Wilson. As “Fat Amy,” Wilson steals every scene she’s in, thanks to her deadpan delivery and her wonderfully nervy willingness to do or say anything. The best lines of the film all belong to Wilson (with a runner-up bone thrown to the zany Elizabeth Banks), and she earns each and every one.
A cappella singing and mash-ups and jam-downs and Rihanna and Jessie J and sick beats and hot licks and singing in empty pools and whatever the “kids” are “into” “these days” is definitely not for everyone (in fact, most people should never even attempt half of that stuff), and Pitch Perfect will surely face plenty of detractors who write it off as silly or frivolous or as some product of the Glee Generation (is that a thing now?) – but forget all that. Haters will indeed hate, and to them we can only say, “a ca-eff you.”
The Upside: It’s genuinely funny, strangely sweet, and exuberantly energetic. Like any good musical, Pitch Perfect just makes you want to sing and dance. Rebel Wilson continues to be the MVP of every project she appears in.
The Downside: An occasionally slapdash (and sometimes predictable) plot that also feels frequently unrealistic. But, guys! Singing! A ca-awesome!
On the Side: Star Kendrick is an actual singing talent, as her Kendrick’s first acting role was as Dinah in the Broadway musical High Society when she was just twelve-years-old. Kendrick was nominated for a Tony for the role, making her the third-youngest Tony Award nominee ever. Yeah, that’s really her on the soundtrack.