With the runaway success of Glee, a singing competition movie of some kind was inevitable. Pitch Perfect, an amalgam of said TV show and Bring It On, takes the honors, turning acapella crooning into a team sport. The film is not terribly original: A talented new kid joins an underdog squad with depleted numbers, and they assemble a crew of misfits to compete in a big competition, at which they must defeat their bitter rivals. We’ve seen this schematic before in several different genres, and Pitch Perfect even lifts ideas shamelessly from its cheerleading predecessor (“aca-politcal”; “cheer-ocracy”). While the singing numbers have pep, and the comedy has bite, thanks to supporting player Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect is anything but.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) reluctantly arrives at Barden College where her dad is a professor. In earmuff headphones, piercings, and thickly applied eyeliner, Beca is an unthreatening “alt-chick” with dreams of Hollywood music producing. Her father concedes to let her leave school early for LA, if she spends one year at Barden and gets involved in some kind of activity. Her sweet singing in the dormitory showers is like a siren call to the Bellas, an all-girl acapella group that needs to replenish its personnel so it can compete against an all-male group—The Treble Makers—in a national contest. Beca also catches the eye of a coed, Jesse (Skylar Astin), who she coldly rebuffs despite his charm and persistence.
Anna Kendrick makes for a capable lead and a lovely singer (with the help of auto-tune, I’m sure), but at times acts with a bit too much attitude. She has a touch of the Bella Swan about her, as she receives a lot of attention from others, though her petulant demeanor hardly warrants it. The two team captains, Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp in a thankless role as the squad’s resident control freak), recruit the school’s smoothest harmonizers—a Japanese girl so soft-spoken she’s barely audible; a slut; a sexually ambiguous African American; and a dry British chippie self-christened Fat Amy (Wilson)—en route to glory. Deadpan, wryly critical and unabashedly frank, Fat Amy may not be the Bellas’ star performer (that’s probably Beca), but she certainly becomes the film’s.
If not for Wilson’s levity, or her exceptional timing and gift for self-immolation, we’d be stuck with Pitch Perfect’s competently performed musical mash-ups of obvious Top 40 tunes (“Don’t Stop The Music”, “Since U Been Gone”, “Party In The USA”, and “Just The Way You Are”, to name a few), its exhausted plot progression, and its relatively neutered vision of college life. Though, I did enjoy the booth commentaries of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks. They recalled the films of Christopher Guest at their most sardonic and satirical: Commentary at a singing competition seems antithetical, and to whom were they broadcasting, anyways? Pitch Perfect could benefit from being a little more off-key.