starring: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, John Benjamin Hickey
written by: Kay Cannon
directed by: Jason Moore
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references
I should admit right off the bat that there was no conceivable way I wasn’t going to love this movie. From the first time that I heard the magical words “Anna Kendrick will star in a college comedy about competitive acapella groups,” I was fully prepared to lie down and die for this movie if it asked me to. The casting news just kept getting better from there. Rebel Wilson from Bridesmaids! Brittany Snow from Hairspray! Anna Camp from True Blood! By the time I discovered it was also the feature-length screenwriting debut of 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, I had begun ritualistically carving PITCH PERFECT IN THEATERS OCTOBER 5 into my flesh. This complicated matters when the release date was moved up to September 28, but no matter. I could never stay mad at this movie. How could I? It combines the traits Glee displays at its (very rare) best — endlessly quippy dialogue and exhilarating musical numbers — with the inspiring breakneck energy and unrelenting fun of Bring It On. It deserves immediate induction into the Girls & Gays Fave Movie Hall of Fame.
Kendrick stars as Beca, a too-cool college freshman who’s been forced to attend school by her father (John Benjamin Hickey), a literature professor. Beca has no interest in college, because she already knows exactly what she wants to do: move to L.A. and start paying her dues in the music industry, such as it is, so she can become a professional DJ. She can frequently be found hunched over her laptop, beat-matching innovative new mashups (because apparently there are still entire portions of the population for whom mashups are a new and novel thing, despite having reached their urban saturation point at least five years ago). Her father decides to offer her a compromise: if she makes it through the first year of college and still hates it, she can quit and move to L.A. She eagerly accepts, but there’s just one condition: he really wants her to get involved in campus life.
This is a good time to address one of Pitch Perfect’s more enjoyably absurd aspects: Cannon (working from Mickey Rapkin’s book) has scripted a fictitious college campus where being in an acapella group is a very cool thing to do. In fact, there’s a separate acapella group for nearly every clique, which naturally paves the way for a variation on the time-honored Clueless/Mean Girls clique introduction tour. The kings of the campus are the uber-douchey Treble Makers, headed by Bumper (Workaholics‘ ever-ridiculous Adam DeVine). The prissy sorority types are in the Barton Bellas. And there are two supporting groups, one for stoner burnouts and the other vaguely defined as Madonna enthusiasts.
At a campus activity fair, Beca is approached by the Barton Bellas president, Aubrey (Anna Camp), and her devoted underling, Chloe (Brittany Snow). The Bellas are still smarting from a recent performance embarrassment, and are in danger of losing their group if they don’t recruit enough new members. Beca initially turns them down, but when Chloe overhears her singing in the dorm shower and challenges her to a nude battle of wills, Beca relents and agrees to audition. Due to their besmirched image, the Bellas have to compromise their membership standards and bring in girls that clash with their cookie-cuttter ideals of feminine beauty. In short, they have to restock their group with weirdos. In addition to edgy alternative Beca, they also welcome Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who’s given herself that nickname to prevent “you twig bitches” from doing it first. They recruit enough new members to survive, but there’s a bigger problem: Aubrey stubbornly insists on doing the same outdated musical numbers over and over again, and she does not take kindly to suggestions. She is an aca-tyrant (get ready for a lot of that). But alt girls gonna alt, and as the team’s performances continue to disappoint, it’s only a matter of time before Beca steps up with some bold new creative direction.
As for these supposedly “edgy” new numbers: make no mistake, they still hew pretty closely to Top 40, just more current than the Ace of Base favored by Aubrey. But unlike Glee, with its grotesquely overproduced pseudo-karaoke spectacles, the performances in Pitch Perfect actually sound feasibly like the kind of thing an acapella group could sing live. No doubt some pitch correction was used for some of the vocals, but not to the distracting degree that Glee does. And before she was an Oscar-nominated actress, Kendrick was a Tony nominee at the age of 12 for her performance in the musical High Society and made her first film appearance in the proto-Glee queer teen musical Camp. The role of Beca plays to her every strength, from her musical background to her whip-smart personality and deliciously sarcastic sense of humor. It truly fits her like a glove; this is Kendrick’s first leading role, and she totally owns it.
For as funny as Pitch Perfect so frequently is, some of the humor strays a bit into cheap and easy territory. The character of Fat Amy is particularly problematic; Cannon and first-time feature director Jason Moore seem to think that as long as Fat Amy addresses her body size openly and unapologetically, it becomes acceptable to make her say things like “I’m gonna finish him like a cheesecake” and to show her with absurdly hot men clinging to her, which is funny because she’s fat, get it? None of this is Wilson’s fault, who continues carving a spectacularly bizarre and exciting comedic niche for herself (she also displayed some dramatic chops in Bachelorette). There is quite a bit of humor at the expense of the film’s two Asian characters, Beca’s ice-cold roommate and a whisper-voiced weirdo who joins the Bellas, as well as a predatory black lesbian who ogles the group’s slutty member like Rosie on The Real Housewives of New Jersey after a few too many limoncellos. The film also features an extremely tasteless joke about deaf Jews, but I’ll allow that one.
But really, these are just minor quibbles in what will surely be one of the most sheerly pleasurable and entertaining comedies all fall. Even when the inevitable conflict bumps in the road arise, the film doesn’t get bogged down by them or suddenly transform into a portentous drama (ahem, Glee). It is never less than completely and delightfully silly, but with a measure of intelligence and ample self-awareness from Kendrick’s performance and Cannon’s script. I had ridiculously high expectations going in to Pitch Perfect, and it did not disappoint.
Pitch Perfect opens today.