Pitch Perfect (2012)

Get Pitch Slapped

More Mean Girls (2004) then Glee (2009), Pitch Perfect is an enjoyably edgy campus romp that’s both wildly nerdy and somewhat racy. Loosely adapted from Mickey Rapkin’s non-fiction book, titled Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, this snappy, smart-mouthed satire is set in the unlikely world of a cappella singing. Debuting feature director Jason Moore, best known for having staged the hit Broadway show Avenue Q, sets a swift pace, mixing music mash-ups with genuine wit, while the unusually attractive cast — including the sassy Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air (2009) and Rebel Wilson, hot on the heels of Bridesmaids (2011) — are playful and assured, bringing copious amounts of energy and girl-power to this snidely amusing, sexual-identity musical comedy. I encourage you to sing along, as I’m sure you all know this one!

A-ca-scuse me??
A-ca-scuse me??

Everything is going well for Barden University’s all-female a cappella group, The Barden Bellas, until their imperious blond leader, Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), projectile vomits on stage during her solo at a national a cappella competition, publicly humiliating the Bellas while simultaneously destroying their chances at winning. Four months later, newly arrived Barden freshman Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) — an aspiring DJ, preoccupied with mixing her own mash-ups — half-heartedly enrolls at the college after being forced by her father, Dr. Mitchell (John Benjamin Hickey), a professor at the university, to do so. When Beca’s dad discovers that she has not been attending her classes, he comes to her with a proposition of sorts, asking her to embrace college life by joining a club; if after one year, she is still unhappy at Barden, he agrees to help Beca to move to Los Angeles in order to pursue her music career. After some persuasion from Bellas’ co-leader Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), Beca reluctantly joins the all-girl singing a cappella group, The Barden Bellas, who are hell-bent on taking the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, beating their rivals, the school’s popular all-male team, The Treblemakers. But when Beca challenges Aubrey’s tired, ‘conventional’ act with some impromptu back-up lyrics during one of their performances — reinvigorating those who appear to have lost interest in the Bellas — tempers flare as Beca takes it upon herself to find the troupe’s new look and sound, in turn getting them back in the game.

With the script by Kay Cannon, 30 Rock (2006), zealously embracing the ‘organized nerd singing’ that is a cappella without the complacent righteousness of Glee, Pitch Perfect remains unpredictable and fresh, boasting an almost insightful look into the squabbles and rivalry within a cappella groups, especially when egos and distractions come into play. Featuring some great laugh-out-loud moments — without reverting to gross-out gags — the narrative never takes itself too seriously while the excellent cast put the ‘a-ca’ in the filck’s a-ca-awesome.

Duck Face
Duck Face

The multi-talented Anna Kendrick oozes with levity and maturity as she seemingly blossoms from wary outsider to confident a cappella leader, showcasing both her subtle comedic skills and musical ability; Beca’s Bellas audition, where she performs ‘Cups (When I’m Gone)’ — a combination between a children’s rhythmic percussion game played with drinking cups and a folk-country song that dates back to the late 1920s or early 1930s — is bona fide showstopper. Although banned by Aubrey to mingle with any of The Treblemakers, Beca’s mandatory love interest — Treblemaker nice-guy Jesse Swanson — is brought to life by Skylar Astin, 21 & Over (2013), whose charming chemistry with co-star Kendrick truly sells the friendship and eventual relationship. Amiable and attractive, Astin owns the role of Jesse, a wannabe film score composer whose way of ‘wooing’ Beca is to show her what he considers to be the greatest movie sequence of all time: the ending of The Breakfast Club (1985).

Thankfully, Kendrick’s soulful lead is supported by a colorful cast of secondary players who posses the right amount of quirkiness to break away from cliché and formula; fortunately these characters come across as memorable when compared against other stereotypical second tier roles. Fashioning the terms ‘horizontal running’ and ‘mermaid dancing,’ Australia’s Rebel Wilson steals all her scenes as Patricia, a kooky Bella who refers to herself as Fat Amy, ‘so that twig bitches’ don’t do it behind her back. With a hilarious arsenal of quips, looks and moves, and a boisterous personality with loads of confidence, Wilson’s one-two punch of deadpan, self-deprecating humor takes the edge off the Mean Girls dynamic established between Beca and the two older Bellas, Aubrey and Chloe. Next up, Anna Camp — most notable for playing Sarah Newlin in HBO’s True Blood (2008) — gets to showcase her more comic side as the ‘traditional,’ uptight co-leader of the group, Aubrey Posen, while Brittany Snow, John Tucker Must Die (2006), acts as the kinder, more civil co-leader, Chloe Beale. Among the other Bellas are Lilly Onakuramara (Hana Mae Lee), an odd Asian who speaks more softly than a whisper yet is later revealed to be a talented beat boxer; Cynthia-Rose Adams (Ester Dean), a black teen who is so butch that Fat Amy thinks she’s a boy, whereas Alexis Knapp’s, Project X (2012), voluptuous Stacie Conrad supplies some decent eye candy while constantly informing those around her of her flourishing sex life.

You're Welcome!
You’re Welcome!

Elsewhere, Adam DeVine, Neighbors (2014), radiates as the egotistical but talented leader of The Treblemakers, Bumper Allen, playing well against Wilson’s straight-faced humor and inspired improv; let’s not forget about the terrific Elizabeth Banks, The Hunger Games (2012), and John Michael Higgins, Fired Up! (2009) — who recorded all their scenes in one day — as the, ‘say-it-like-it-is’ ICCA commentators, Gail Abernathy-McKadden and John Smith. Rounding out the cast is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad (2007), who portrays Tommy, the fictional university’s constantly harassed audition launcher, and Joe Lo Truglio, Pineapple Express (2008), as a crazy member of The Tonehangers, a former four-man a cappella group who are still emotionally invested in the heyday of their past career.

Real-life a cappella performers and music producers Ed Boyer and Deke Sharon clearly know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to crafting and designing a film such as this. With a soundtrack featuring oldies, newbies and everything in between — most of which is rendered vocally without instrumentation — the picture’s soundtrack is a real winner. Be it in the impromptu challenges, rehearsals or the regional competitions leading up to the national finals, which are held in New York’s Lincoln Center, every musical number hits the right note. With acts ranging from the deliberately bland robotic numbers presented by the Bellas during their lackluster shows to the mind-blowing mush-ups performed at the riff-off, there’s a lot to enjoy. I can assure you that Anna Kendrick’s fantastic rendition of Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ will remain with viewers long after the film has concluded. Co-produced by Hollywood feminist Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect promotes young women who embrace their unique individuality, women who collaborate and evolve in order to gain and achieve happiness and success. In the end, the Bellas succeed by working together; they blend the old with the new and break away from their own guarded eccentricities to form positive, fruitful friendships. Moreover, the feature also challenges the idea of masculinity — which is evident when Jesse’s roommate gushes out about the Treblemakers — and explores ‘fat acceptance,’ particularly within the character of Fat Amy. Although jokes are made about her size and weight — by herself and by others — Fat Amy is portrayed as an appealing, desirable person; she appears to have sex, has a lot of friends and gets solos in the group’s acts.

Rebel with a Voice!
Rebel with a Voice!

Held together by Kendrick’s good-natured alt-girl act, Pitch Perfect embraces the campiness of its subject matter, delivers likeable, engaging characters and features a number of well-chosen musical performances. Yes, the plot might be a little formulaic, but the up-beat film is toe-tapping fun from start to finish. With girl bonding aplenty, impressive visuals and some subtle but honest messages about growing up, Pitch Perfect is sure to please on all fronts. ‘The kraken has been unleashed! ‘ Fat Amy states, ‘Feel the Fat Amy force!’

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Pitch Perfect is released through Universal Pictures Australia