Cashing in on the success of Glee, Pitch Perfect takes viewers on the wacky ride of competitive a capella competition. Based on the book by Mickey Rapkin which examined the real-life underground subculture of competitive collegiate a cappella groups at three separate universities, Pitch Perfect desperately wants a to be a celebratory parody for college choirs in the same way Bring It On was for cheerleading.
Sadly, nowhere near as clever, Pitch Perfect plays much more like one of Bring It On‘s straight-to-video sequels.
Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a disgruntled college freshman whose father (John Benjamin Hickey), a professor at the university, is forcing her to get an education (what a dick, right?) when all she wants to do is head to New York and begin a career as a DJ. Making a deal to give college life a try, Beca begins working at the college radio station and is pressured into signing up for The Barden Bellas, an all female singing group, by an upperclassman (Brittany Snow) who hears Beca singing in the shower (and jumps in to sing along with her in one of the film’s more awkward scenes).
Beca joins The Bellas to take on the campus’ reigning champions, The Treblemakers, who have a new member of their own — the boy Beca is not-so-secretly lusting after (Skylar Astin).
Beca’s music mashup inventiveness clashes with Aubrey (Anna Camp), the group’s leader who prefers a more staid performance. In trouble of not making it to the finals, and to no one’s surprise, the two finally bond, blending Beca’s out-of-the-box thinking to create a new sound for the group.
Pitch Perfect is not without some definite charm, even if it contains several one-note supporting players, a supremely selfish lead character, and a litany of odd choices — including multiple scenes of projectile vomiting during live performances. The movie’s best scene showcases Beca’s first experience with the college’s “Riff Off” (see the video below) where the various campus groups gather to throwdown a capella-style.
Kendrick, Snow, and Astin are the movie’s standouts. Rounding out The Bellas along with Aubrey are cliched archetypes like the lesbian Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), the slutty Stacie (Alexis Knapp), the whispering Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), and, cashing in on the recent success of Bridesmaids, the brash overweight funny one – Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). Other characters include The Treblemakers and the other a capella groups, Jesse’s super-nerdy roommate Benji (Ben Platt) who disappears for half the film, and John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks giving us the same off-color commentators (broadcasting to an audience we never see, or is sure even exists) that movies like this always throw in.
The film’s choice of music isn’t as good as you might expect, although The Bellas’ numbers pick up in the film’s final act when Beca’s mashups replace yet another insufferable rendition of Ace of Base‘s “The Sign.” In fact, almost all of the film’s best musical numbers come either in the “Riff Off” or in the film’s final 15 minutes. A better choice would have been for Beca and Aubrey to bury the hatchet much earlier and give use more of the new-look Bellas.
For a story that knows exactly where it’s going from the first beat, it sure takes a long time to get there.
Pitch Perfect is a mixed bag more along the lines of Bandslam or Fired Up! than the far more imaginative takes on similar stories we’ve seen in the likes of Bring It Own and Stick It. There will certainly be an audience, mostly young girls, who will enjoy the movie, but much like an evening of drunken karaoke, Pitch Perfect is something that’s best forgotten in the harsh light of a new day.