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Pitch Perfect

Theatrical Review

Universal Pictures; 112 minutes

Director: Jason Moore

Written by on September 26, 2012 

Anything trying to capitalize on the now-waning Glee craze and Step Up‘s surprising staying power probably should be dismissed sight unseen. How could a film dealing with the catty rivalries of the a cappella world be anything but an eye-rolling waste of celluloid? This is probably exactly what Universal Pictures thinks we’ll assume because they are throwing all their weight behind Pitch Perfect with an early release in select cities and a Twitter campaign putting one of its stars in the end credits to thank us for coming to an advance screening. They know preconceptions will destroy all hope for success and they’re being proactive. Not only is it working—a lot of friends have asked whether I’d seen it yet—but it’s also warranted. This flick is a ton of fun.

Having heard nothing previously, an extended scene with the cast riffing covers of songs about sex in a drained pool made me aware and interested. In the back of my mind I knew it could still be a horrific train wreck, but it somehow seemed just inspired enough to work. The fact Blackstreet‘s “No Diggity” was showcased instead of some Nicki Minaj tune had me believing it wouldn’t be an overload of current Top 40 hits and the actors’ mix of serious, tongue-in-cheek, and full-on cheese looked like director Jason Moore had the tone dialed in perfectly. So, once the a cappella Universal jingle faded inside the theatre and the Treblemakers took the National Championship stage, hearing the eclectic choice of British jazz-pop artist Jamie Cullum‘s “Don’t Stop the Music” was icing on the cake.

Scripted by 30 Rock staff writer Kay Cannon from former GQ senior editor Mickey Rapkin‘s debut novel, Pitch Perfect becomes a pastiche of all the best parts from films that utilized the same formula before it. Producer Elizabeth Banks and the great John Michael Higgins channel Cotton and Pepper from Dodgeball with a little Trevor and Buck from Best in Show as the a cappella circuit’s acerbically hilarious commentators; the aforementioned ‘Riff Off’ mirrors the over-the-top gamesmanship clashes of Step Up; and the sweetly saccharine romance at the film’s core sends up the over-wrought puppy love portrayed throughout its genre. A kindred spirit to the self-aware comedy in Fired Up!, Cannon never lets the action fall too far into cliché without projectile vomit or a well-placed “She said what?!” oneliner to remind us everyone is in on the joke.

Like any sports flick about an underdog looking for retribution after a tough loss the year before, Barden University’s Bellas have something to prove. The first all-female group to ever make the finals, their rather conservative approach to wardrobe and song selection has them at a disadvantage from the start with the Treblemakers’ fearlessly cocky approach. Also from Barden, this all-male contingent is led by Bumper (Adam DeVine), the biggest tool on the planet, one of its most audacious performers, and the yin to new Bella general Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) yang. The writing appears to be on the wall early when she chooses Ace of Base as the girls’ go-to track again, but being forced to depart from the thin, prim and proper type she generally recruits means this years’ Bellas could evolve into a contender.

This new crop of talent is what makes the film entertaining. Bumper, his cohort Donald (Utkarsh Ambudkar), Aubrey, and her Lieutenant Chloe (Brittany Snow) are the old guard who’ve been through it all before. Elitist taskmasters, the process of pushing them off their pedestals becomes key to our enjoyment because the newcomers are anything but conformists. You have Stacie’s (Alexis Knapp) overt sexuality classing up the joint, Cynthia Rose’s (Ester Dean) tough exterior, Lilly’s (Hana Mae Lee) uniquely original borderline mute, and Benji’s (Ben Platt) unfortunate nerdom to keep things interesting on the fringe while our leading duo do their thing. It’s a menagerie of personalities that sometimes mesh and sometimes clash, but always brings the funny—especially Lee’s barely audible lines of pure gold.

It’s Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Jesse (Skylar Astin) who serve as the sun to this story’s solar system through awkward flirtations and emotional baggage. They are the ‘cool kids’ slumming it with the ‘a-ca-dorks’ because they secretly love the experience. Drowning in cliché, both find a way to make their characters endearingly sarcastic enough to mock their stereotypes while also embodying them. More talented and risky than those directing the groups, we know they’ll eventually wrestle away, earn, or fall into that leadership position and yet never get annoyed by the process. They are ‘normal’ kids in an abnormal world—the perfect entry points for us to laugh along with at the absurdity surrounding them. We become more comfortable as they do, moving closer towards the group as the competition and internal conflicts heat up.

Above the tournament and romance angles, however, Pitch Perfect works best when freely paving its own path. The filmmakers aren’t afraid to mock their central construct through exaggerated diva personalities or put serious vocal injuries such as nodes in their place. They also let the comedic talent assembled run wild with cameos from Christopher Mintz-Plasse and an aging quartet itching for a fight composed of a couple surprise comedic actors. However, it’s Rebel Wilson‘s Fat Amy who truly steals the show as the most crass, odd, and fantastic of them all. Possessed with the stunning ability to make every reaction appear off the cuff, her singing brings the funny as well showcases her talent. But that’s par for the course as B.o.B, Bruno Mars, The Bangles, Simple Minds, and more meld together for some exhilarating musical numbers from the entire cast.

Pitch Perfect hits select cities this Friday, September 28th, and releasing wide on October 5th.


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