Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
A cappella singing, the lovable outcast of the musical world, has slowly but surely seeped its way into pop culture. From Rockapella on “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” to Andy Bernard’s Here Comes Treble on “The Office,” the style’s appeal has grown without necessarily becoming legitimized. Most at home on college campuses, where a single institution is likely to have numerous groups, it’s only fitting that a feature film on the subject take place amidst academia.
Based on Mickey Rapkin’s investigative text, Pitch Perfect sounds like little more than Bring It On with singing. At its core is a fairly bare bones plot involving the all female Barden Bellas’ quest for a return to Nationals and a rivalry with their male counterparts, the Treblemakers. Adapted by veteran “30 Rock” writer Kay Cannon, however, the actual film is something far more entertaining: a broad, razor-wit stunner with more in common with Mean Girls than the generic fluff it appears to resemble.
Populating the standard set-up are the kinds of characters and situations that give a cappella its particular reputation. From auditions to rehearsals to performances and all the wacky traditions, initiations, and sideshows in between, Pitch Perfect is both a celebration of a cappella groups and a lampooning of its ridiculous facets, of which, as the film’s creators are keenly aware, there are many.
With the above-all-this Beca (Anna Kendrick) as our guide, the subculture is thoroughly brought to life. Under the direction of Avenue Q helmer Jason Moore, song selection, placement, and execution are all top notch. The charm of hearing a song performed solely with voices works its magic early, elevating clunkers from the likes of Bruno Mars and Kelly Clarkson to near-universal catchiness. For a ditty that was already good, like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” the sensation becomes downright euphoric. Regardless of each song’s inherent quality, the performances allow for plenty of humorous choreography and theatrics, but it’s the jokes themselves that are the film’s true stars.
Not a minute goes by without a strong laugh, anchored by the wacky antics of Rebel Wilson, feeling more at home here than in Bridesmaids. Cracking wise at the Bellas and their competitors are Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as extra dry commentators, carrying the torch lit by Jason Bateman and Gary Cole in Dodgeball. The duo’s faux sincerity cuts right to the heart of a cappella craziness, keeping the film’s tone light while revealing plenty of truth in jest.
On the not so great side, Pitch Perfect is a little homophobic, a storyline with Beca and her dad (John Benjamin Hickey) goes nowhere, and there are a couple of unfortunate gross-out gags (which, though dumb, are still funny). The first half also has several details that, as with almost every film, seem like desperate grasps at hipness. The prime culprit here is Beca’s interest in DJ-ing and remixing, but consistent with Cannon’s smart script, the typical throwaway inclusion comes nicely into play as the film progresses. At its peak synchronization, the detail feels borderline brilliant and solidifies the film’s success. Cannon’s mentor Tina Fey must surely be proud.
Competitive collegiate a cappella is a fairly narrow topic, but Moore’s and Cannon’s collaboration make it surprisingly accessible and an unlikely vehicle for general quality comedy. Built for more than simply fans of “Glee,” the film should appeal to anyone with a taste for ridiculousness. With such a fortified funny bone, the songs are merely a bonus.
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references.
Pitch Perfect is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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