The Scoop: 2012, rated PG-13, directed by Jason Moore and starring Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson.
Tagline: Get Pitch Slapped.
Summary Capsule: Social rebel leads misfits to a cappella glory in musically epic battle-of-the-sexes.
Courtney’s Rating: Makes me wanna vocalize some music! Boom chicka eera-eera! (I can’t sing, so I’m inventing textual beatboxing.)
Courtney’s Review: A cappella, music made entirely with human voices in place of instruments, has been gaining widespread popularity in pop culture lately, but it’s been a proud music geek tradition at colleges across the US just about forever. Pitch Perfect focuses in on Barden University’s Bellas, an all-female ensemble trying to recover from a nasty catastrophe (canastrophe!) at last year’s National Championship (their all-male rivals, the Treblemakers, were crowned winners.)
The only remaining Bellas are neurotic control-freak Aubrey (Anna Camp) and perky but passive Chloe (Brittany Snow). Desperate for recruits, the duo are forced to lower their standards and admit a bunch of oddballs. Among them is disaffected and vaguely alternative Beca (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring DJ who only joined as part of a deal with her father. Beca’s career as a Bella gets off to a shaky start, as her ideas to radically alter the Bellas’ decades-old arrangement and her flirting with Treblemaker Jesse (Skylar Astin) has her butting heads with tradition-stickler Aubrey.
You can probably guess where the rest of this is headed. It’s the same underdog tale told all over again, this time with instrument-less covers of pop songs and more clichés than you can shake your jazz hands at. But screenwriter Kay Cannon uses the familiar premise to her advantage, mostly by poking fun at some the tropes that have become exhaustively inevitable in the genre. Extra points for the character drama being less shallow than typical; for example, the main obstacle keeping Beca and Jesse apart isn’t their groups’ rivalry, but their contrasting personalities – Beca’s guarded and Jesse’s a bit too eager to intervene in various aspects of her life. The comedy is equal parts hits and misses. While the overall tone is very twee and YA-friendly, there are more than a few gross-out gags (mostly puke shots and references to gender-specific body parts) and politically incorrect jokes (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins sporadically pop in as inappropriate competition commentators, and Beca’s roommate, played by Jinhee Joung, peppers her few lines of dialogue with casual racism.) These elements aren’t balanced very well, and the effect is pretty schizophrenic.
The movie’s greatest strength is its pitch perfect (hey, that’s the title!) casting. Beca could have easily come off as a surly, annoying musical wunderkind, but Kendrick manages to give her a warmth and likability. Aubrey is never as loathsome as the average heroine’s foil, and Camp’s performance suggests an apprehension that makes her sympathetic. Chloe mainly functions as a bridge between Beca and Aubrey’s extremes, but Snow manages to milk her shining moments for all they’re worth. But it’s Rebel Wilson as crude, rude and lewd Fat Amy who stands out with her deadpan delivery and physical bits like “mermaid dancing.” She could have easily become an overused gag, but she thankfully doesn’t creep into the spotlight very often. The ragtag Bellas round out to include masculine powerhouse Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean); promiscuous ditz Stacie (Alexis Knapp); quiet but possibly unhinged Lilly (Hana Mae Lee); and three girls whose roles are so minor that near the end of the second act, Aubrey actually shouts that it’s like they haven’t been around all year. They may not be major players, but each lady leaves a unique stamp on the movie and is genuinely entertaining to watch.
While the Trebles receive less screen-time, it’s enough for Adam Devine to steal a few scenes as their jerky leader Bumper, whose music nerdery actually makes him Cobra Kai Johnny in this world. But the main attraction is Astin’s Jesse, who is mostly defined by his clumsy charm (sufficiently justifying comparisons to a young John Cusack) and an appreciation for The Breakfast Club, which ends up tying into the climax. One great side plot doesn’t figure the Bellas in at all, instead centering on Jesse and his roommate, Benji (Ben Platt), whose fanboy love for magic, Star Wars, and the Treblemakers is simply adorable. It’s rare for a movie to acknowledge that the love interest character has their own social life that doesn’t directly relate to the main character, and it’s a pleasing little surprise here.
But what are we doing, going on about story and characters? We all know the main draw for this movie: the music. The majority of the soundtrack features hits from the past five years, but a few ’80s and ’90s pop songs get thrown in as well. It may not be the best music ever written, but the vocals-only arrangements are impressive. I don’t want to spoil too much of the Bellas’ final number, but I will say that it’s an intricate mash-up of two songs I do not like, two songs I think are okay, and one song I never thought any cover could do justice to. And it’s awesome. The performances work better onscreen than on the soundtrack (you can tell most of the numbers had been unnecessarily edited from the versions heard in the film) but the soundtrack is still a worthy purchase.
Pitch Perfect falters in its attempts to mimic recent hits like Bridesmaids and Superbad as well as bona fide classics like The Breakfast Club. But it’s still fluffy, quotable fun with potential to become a perennial sleepover favorite. A sequel would be welcome, but only if it boasts the same fantastic production values and doesn’t overdo the Fat Amyisms.
- The movie is a loose adaptation of Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction book Pitch Perfect: the Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.
- Fans of NBC’s short-lived a cappella competition The Sing-Off may recognize one of the peripheral Bellas as Kelley Jakle, who competed in Season 1 with the SoCals and Season 2 with the Backbeats.
- Keep an eye out for cameos by Turk, McLovin, and McLaggen.
- Ester Dean, the actress who plays Cynthia Rose, is an accomplished songwriter. One of her songs is Rihanna’s “S&M”, which her character sings in the movie.
- Unused categories for the riff-off include “Puppet Songs,” “White Michael Jackson” and “Songs Ruined by Glee.”
Jesse: Organized nerd singing? This is great!
Gail: Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man who sings like a boy.
Aubrey: What’s your name?
Fat Amy: Fat Amy.
Aubrey: You call yourself Fat Amy?
Fat Amy: Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.
Bumper: You girls are awesome…ly horrible. I hate you. Kill yourselves. Girl power! Sisters before misters!
John: Women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors.
Bumper: I have a feeling we should kiss. Is that a good feeling, or an incorrect feeling?
Fat Amy: Sometimes I have the feeling I can do crystal meth, but then I think, mmm… better not.
Aubrey: My dad always says, if you’re not here to win, get the hell out of Kuwait.
Donald: Who do you think would be easier to sleep with: Captain America, or a great white shark?
Bumper: A great white shark.
Lilly: I ate my twin in the womb.
If you enjoyed this movie, try:
- The Sister Act
- Bring It On