“Nothing makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man singing a cappella.”
If you’ve ever gone to a college that has an a cappella club, you’ll understand the hoopla of ridiculousness that surround these groups. The crowd-packed performances. The consistent partying. The screaming fans. The desperate groupies. It’s like living in Bizarro Land, where the group of singing and dancing music geeks get more attention, respect, and yes, play, than the champion athletics on campus. Have you ever seen a girl throw her panties on a basketball court during a game? That sort of shit happens all the time at college a cappella shows.
And then you graduate. And suddenly, the desire to hear vocal renditions of pop songs sans instruments performed in cheesy choreographed numbers disappears. No one cares anymore (unless you’re Rockapella, in which case, just sing the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego theme and leave us alone). If college is the time when a cappella kids are rock stars, than after college is a time when every college a cappella kid turns into LaTravia Robertson and LeToya Luckett. Sorry girls, you’re out of Destiny’s Child.
Pitch Perfect understands that short-lived success, and projects all the hype, hard work, and hilariousness of these a cappella clubs back on us. The result? One of the most surprising comedies I’ve seen in ages.
Based on the acclaimed book by Mickey Rapkin, Pitch Perfect tells the tale Barden University’s Barden Bellas – an all-female a cappella club desperate to claim the top prize at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. In order to do that, they’ll need to get past reigning ICCA champs The Treblemakers – an all-male group also out of Barden University. But with their misfit group of members and their stale song choices, The Bellas are going to have to work extra hard to grab that top spot.
Lucky for them, they have a secret weapon in Beca (Anna Kendrick), an aspiring music producer who has a way with melodies. Forever the loner, Beca reluctantly joins The Bellas. But her desire to innovate clashes with team leader Aubrey (Anna Camp), who refuses to deviate from The Bellas’ past routines. And while the war between Bella and The Treblemakers forges on (cue the flying burrito!), Beca meets Treblemaker Jesse (Skylar Astin), and soon finds herself the object of his affection. A Ca-Oh No!
The story may seem tired and, yes, predictable, but director Jason Moore and screenwriter Kay Cannon keep it from feeling stale through colorful characters and cleaver jokes. That’s no surprise considering their credentials. Moore was Tony-nominated for directing the hysterical Avenue Q, and Cannon is a writer/producer of 30 Rock. That quick-witted comedy and ability to find heart in oddball characters brings a level of sophistication to Pitch Perfect I wasn’t expecting.
Casting choices also help. And Pitch Perfect made some – shit I hate myself for doing this – “pitch perfect” choices. Many of the supporting cast standouts are made up of relative unknowns making their film debuts (the hysterical Hana Mae Lee; Workaholics star Adam DeVine; singer-songwriter Ester Dean), and in Pitch Perfect, they’re all given their own time to shine. Anna Camp – who seems to be popping up everywhere these days (Mad Men, The Help, True Blood, The Good Wife, The Mindy Project) – is as brilliant as ever as the stoic, demanding Aubrey. Then there’s Brittany Snow (Hairspray) who shows us that the villains-sidekick role can actually be a compassionate treat. And proven comedic actors Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins even show up from time to time, as “sportscasters” for the a cappella competition who deliver some in appropriate commentary with the utmost of confidence.
But if this is anyone’s movie, it’s Rebel Wilson’s. You know, much has been made of Rebel Wilson lately, and to be honest, I never really understood why. In Bridesmaids, I found her character to be annoying as all shit – a roadblock in an otherwise perfect narrative. In Bachelorette, I thought her character brought some genuine laughs, but ultimately, I could have easily seen any other actress in that role. In Pitch Perfect though, I finally got what all the fuss was about. Wilson easily steals the film as Fat Amy – a Barden Bella with a confidence level disproportionate to her looks and abilities. Is this going to be the movie that makes her a bona fide star stateside? Probably not. But it’s certainly using her talents to the best of their abilities.
I’ve gone this far without mentioning how wonderful Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin are, and that’s really a mistake on my part considering their characters are the entire backbone of the whole story. Kendrick, a veteran of musicals (Broadway’s High Society, 2003’s Camp), delivers a remarkably likeable performance as Beca. It’s not surprise, really, as Kendrick has been flawless in just about everything she’s done (we won’t hold What to Expect When You’re Expecting against her). Astin, meanwhile, might be the other big revelation of the film. His character Jesse is one of those guys you only see in movies: cute, funny, smart, charismatic, practically perfect at everything he does, and yet always rejected by the girl he likes (Dear Jesse. Try boys. I won’t be mean to you!). But Astin gives him a level of humility and sincerity that makes it impossible not to fall for him. You’ll root for Beca and Jesse to settle their capricious romance. The two have lovely chemistry.
And along the way, they sing some catchy songs – far less cheesy than any of those numbers you might find on Glee. Goddammit I may even want to buy the soundtrack. What the what?
You know, I’ve always had a thing for teen-oriented competition comedies. Bring it On, Center Stage, Step Up, Ladybugs, etc. But I’ve never really thought they were quality films. Just delicious guilty pleasures. In that case, Pitch Perfect surprised me. It’s remarkably cleaver, wonderfully self-aware, and far more sophisticated than the bunch. Like Mean Girls and Clueless are to teen comedies. In a world filled with lazy remakes and painful cliché comedies, Pitch Perfect was music to my ears.