The easiest way to describe musical comedy Pitch Perfect is that it’s Glee by way of Bridesmaids and Bring It On. If you have nothing but contempt for the Step Ups and High School Musicals of the world, you should probably stay away because although the witty new movie pokes fun at the genre, a great deal of viewing pleasure still comes from the musical arrangements. In fact, if it wasn’t for its catchy soundtrack and cast of comically- and vocally-gifted young performers, Pitch Perfect is pure formula.
You should know the drill by now. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a disinterested college freshman who would much rather be in Los Angeles pursuing a career as a DJ. Eventually her professor father (John Hickey) strikes a deal with her – if she embraces campus life and commits to a society for a year, she can drop out of school afterwards. One club is as good as the next and soon she’s a member of the Bellas, an all-female a cappella group (i.e. they sing without musical accompaniment).
Once the Bellas were the beautiful, well-groomed darlings of the competitive a cappella scene, but after a disastrous performance the previous year, leaders Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow) can only recruit a handful of misfits – including Missy Elliot-lookalike Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), soft-spoken Lily (Hana Mae Lee), nymphomaniac Stacie (Alexis Knapp) and rowdy Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). If the girls are to defeat their rivals, the arrogant all-male group, the Treblemakers, they will need to overcome stifling tradition, acknowledge their flaws – especially emotionally distant Beca – and combine their creative strengths.
Pitch Perfect is a mixed bag. It takes some time to warm up, and it can feel like you’re waiting forever for the Bellas to inevitably find their stride and embrace Beca’s original vocal arrangements. This said it’s still a lot of breezy fun. Pitch Perfect isn’t a razor-sharp satire but it’s spiky enough not to be confused with a peppy Disney talent show. There’s a splattering of gross-out humour, some gentle mocking of “organised nerd singing” and a wink at Step Up when the campus’s a cappella groups meet after dark for a highly entertaining back-alley “riff-off.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Pitch Perfect has an all-round appealing cast. Although certain performers like Brittany Snow have demonstrated their vocal talents on-screen before, others haven’t. Kendrick is a major surprise and her performance of David Guetta’s Titanium with Snow is one of the film’s highlights.
While Kendrick is likeably “real” as always, the obvious audience favourite in Pitch Perfect is Wilson’s Fat Amy. Filling much the same role that Melissa McCarthy’s Megan did in Bridesmaids, Fat Amy is an unapologetic, boisterous spirit with a constant stream of wisecracks. Possibly even funnier though is bug-eyed Hana Mae Lee, who whispers the most absurd things in close-up. Then there’s even Elizabeth Banks, the film’s producer, in a small role as a veteran a cappella commentator alongside John Michael Higgins.
In the end, Pitch Perfect is a light treat, stuffed with smart, sassy ladies and some very good musical mash-ups, which have been assembled from pop songs of the past three decades. It may not change the face of cinema, but expect the “guilty pleasure” popularity of this one – and its soundtrack – to grow over time.