On the surface, Pitch Perfect looks like Glee: The Movie, or, more generically, another low-budget, low-IQ teenage-driven comedy most assuredly packed with booze, sex and enough innuendo and euphemisms its bloated PG-13 rating can hold. At least that’s what my mind first thought when I saw the synopsis and the poster (which, ironically, tends to look like the poster for 2011’s Bridesmaids). However, after watching the trailer, while still skeptical, I had high hopes. Maybe, just maybe, Pitch Perfect would be a welcome glimmer of hope in, what has assuredly been, with a few exceptions, a dry, destitute August and September movie viewing season.
Good news – Pitch Perfect is snappy, hilarious, and feisty, easily the funniest comedy I’ve seen since The Five Year Engagement (nearly a six month drought, I might add), and while not a flawless flick by any stretch of the imagination (if you can’t figure out the plot and twists and turns, then you need to lay off the meth), I appreciated the strong female cast that doesn’t apologize for being temperamental, sassy, ass-kicking heroines. Perhaps the similarity to the Bridesmaids poster I mentioned earlier isn’t by accident. Bravo to screenwriter Kay Cannon and director Jason Moore for delivering a film that doesn’t sink to the easy stereotypes found so often in these college comedies.
The story for Pitch Perfect comes via Mickey Rapkin’s nonfiction novel of the same name. Rapkin, a senior editor at GQ magazine, navigated the country from Oregon to Massachusetts to Virginia, covering the competitive world of college a cappella. In the film, the plot revolves around an aspiring D.J. named Becca (Anna Kendrick), who is dragging her feet to college to appease her father, when in reality she’d rather be in Los Angeles furthering her music career. After several weeks and lots of moping and gnashing of teeth, Becca’s dad makes a promise: Join a club, inject yourself into college life, and if you don’t want to be here after a year, I’ll help you get to L.A.
I’m not sure if Barden College has a football or basketball team, but one thing it does have is an overabundance of a cappella groups vying for superiority. The two at odds with each other are the all-girl group, The Barden Bellas, and the all-dude ensemble, The Treblemakers. The latter, led by a cocky douchebag named Bumper (Adam DeVine), are creative and award-winning, while the Bellas have been doing the same old safe and sleepy songs in their flight attendant-esque uniforms, racking up losses to The Treblemakers over and over again. Becca joins the The Barden Bellas after she is accosted in the shower by a Bella veteran, the dedicated, but friendly and good-natured, Chloe (Brittany Snow). Chloe thinks Becca’s ideas to break the Ace of Base mold and to liven up their performance playlist and routines is a breath of fresh air, but the self-appointed leader of the all-girl squad, Aubrey (Anna Camp), won’t budge, despite launching the longest and widest stream of Exorcist-like projectile vomit during the ladies’ competition the previous year. Hard to live a barf like that down.
Thus the somewhat predictable stage is set. The Barden Bellas – a hodgepodge of talent, the underdogs – must learn to work together, to change old habits, if they want to beat, once and for all, The Treblemakers, who seem to do no wrong. Add in some romantic drama between Becca and the nice-guy-who-might-finish-last-until-she-realizes-how-nice-he-is-in-the-end, Jesse (Skylar Astin), and you pretty much have the Pitch Perfect story nailed. Predictable? Yes. Entertaining and enjoyable? Absolutely.
But the story isn’t what makes the movie work. It’s the cast of misfits, such as Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), a saltier, vivacious Olivia Newton-John clone who, despite her plumpness, never tries to be anything but herself and has some damn fine confidence to boot. Or the possible homicidal, quiet-as-a-mouse, closet beat-box rapper, Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and even the nerdy, kind-of-creepy Star Wars fan-slash-magician, Benji (Ben Platt), who, while overlooked because of his geekiness, shines at the end. It’s hard not to feel affection for these characters which, while over-the-top, are more close to home than we think.
Pitch Perfect reminds me of movies like Fired Up, Mean Girls and Stick It – nothing mind blowing, but the saltiness and the acting are enough to make you smile, laugh and shamefacedly appreciate this romp through the collegiate a cappella universe. I highly recommend Pitch Perfect. I’d definitely see it again in theaters and I most assuredly will purchase the Blu-ray.