If you’re a fan of TV’s Glee, think back to the pilot episode. Remember the song at the conclusion of the show? It was a cappella version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing, and it sounded so good with vocal arrangements that were so inspiring, the performance actually eclipsed everything else in the show. I don’t know whether that moment can ever be claimed as the moment that inspired Pitch Perfect, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
The senior editor of GQ Magazine, Mickey Rapkin, spent a whole season reporting on a cappella groups from various universities in competition. After spending time with the singers, observing how they rehearsed, performed, and even partied, he wrote his book Pitch Perfect upon which this fictional tale is based.
Anna Kendrick, who already proved she can sing with a hilarious turn in 2003’s Camp, plays Beca, a loner by her own design, who is pressured by her father to get involved in college activities. She reluctantly becomes a member of The Barden Bellas, an a cappella group of all-girl singers determined to beat their rivals, The Treblemakers, in the championships.
The outline sounds average, like anything you may have already seen in Glee and don’t need to see again, but Pitch Perfect is that rare commodity of the teenage just-out-of-high-school comedy – it’s really, unexpectedly funny.
Beginning with the Universal Pictures theme sung a cappella, Pitch Perfect takes hold of its audience the moment it begins. Kay Cannon’s refreshingly sharp script echoes the rhythm of a sit-com where characters need to say something funny every ten seconds or so, only here the continuous flow of wit seems considerably more natural than a TV comedy. When Beca is welcomed to her new college, the oversized and extremely funny Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy hands her a rape whistle for protection, then adds, “Don’t blow it unless it’s actually happening.”
Some of the biggest laughs come from Elizabeth Banks – also credited as the film’s producer – and comedian John Michael Higgins as irreverent partners-in-broadcasting, commenting on the various collegiate a cappella competitions and stating the first thing that comes to mind, not caring whether it’s politically appropriate or not. When the all-boy band, The Treblemakers, perform hitting those harmonic high notes, Banks states into the mic, “Nothing makes a woman feel like a girl than a man singing like a boy.” When the all-girl band, The Bardem Bellas, walk on stage in their uniforms resembling Pan-Am flight attendants in mini-skirts and heels, Higgins states dismissively but with a smile, “Women are about as good at a cappella as they are at being doctors!”
There’s a drippy subplot regarding Beca’s potential romance with a boy from the rival band, but it’s not half as interesting as all the scenes with the motley crew of misfit girls who make up The Bardem Bellas. The musical moments are genuinely terrific – the mashup of the Bruno Mars song Just the Way You Are/Just a Dream and the girls singing Party In The U.S.A while riding the bus are actually exciting – and when the girls surprise everyone by bursting out of their usual catalog of “safe” competitive songs and deliver a high-energy version of Don’t You Forget About Me, even Elizabeth Banks behind the mic states, “These girls could turn me,” and proceeds to play air-guitar with comic abandon on John Michael Higgins’ extended leg.
There’s a good chance the cynic might dismiss Pitch Perfect as nothing more than an extension of Glee, but you’d be wrong; Glee was never this laugh-out-loud funny.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)