The main thing you need to know about Pitch Perfect, opening nationwide tomorrow, is that it isn’t Glee. When I told people that I was going to a screening of Pitch Perfect, I’d get blank stares and then a flicker of recognition. “Oh,” they’d say “that’s the Glee movie.”
It’s an easy assumption to make; both projects prominently feature singing groups that are on the outside fringes of popularity. One takes place in the hall of McKinley High and chronicles the hijinx and melodrama of the glee club. The other follows an a cappella group at Barden College, trying to recover from an embarrassing incident during a performance the year before. The end game in both is to compete in Nationals. Both prominently feature mash-ups of current songs. Both groups help their members find a place to fit in and find a sense of belonging. And Lord knows that Hollywood likes to cash in on whatever is popular.
But then the similarities end. Because Pitch Perfect is actually good and very funny (sorry Gleeks, but Glee is not).
Pitch Perfect stars Anna Kendrick as Beca, a girl who dreams of becoming a DJ but who has been told by her estranged father that she needs to get a college education first. In Beca’s mind, all that means is that she needs to show up to fulfill this obligation; if she happens to flunk out along the way or never leave her bubble of her headphones and music, so be it. He frustrated father offers her a deal – give it one year and truly embrace the college experience. Become part of the community and get involved in extracurricular activities and go to class. If she still hates it, he’ll help her move and try her hand at being a professional DJ. Enter the Barden Bellas, the college’s all female a cappella group that is in desperate need of new membership and a new reputation after their disastrous showing at Nationals the previous year. They will take just about anyone that can sing, resulting in quite a ragtag assortment of women. Hilarity ensues.
Kendrick has built herself a pretty solid acting resume (Up in the Air, 50/50, the tremendously underrated Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), so it is not surprising that she is very good as the film’s protagonist. Beca’s on a bit of journey in the film and Kendrick plays all that early adulthood angst and uncertainty very well. Her relationship with her possible love interest (there is always a possible love interest in these types of movies) is very sweet and realistic. She is also a surprisingly good singer.
But though she is the star and is very good, this isn’t Kendrick’s movie. This movie is owned by one of the supporting players, Rebel Wilson, who is screamingly funny in the role of fellow Bella member Fat Amy.
Wilson isn’t a household name yet, but I think that is going to change sooner rather than later. I first took notice of her in her small role in Bridesmaids as one of Kristin Wiig’s roommates. She didn’t have many scenes in that film, but she made the most of them and made that minor character instantly memorable. She does the same thing in Pitch Perfect, but on a much larger scale. She reminds me a lot of Melissa McCarthy in her complete commitment to the wacky role and she seems like she would be game for just about anything if she thought it would get a laugh. She easily gets the biggest laughs of the film and any scene where she is featured is immediately more exciting just because of the potential of what she might do. She just has great timing and delivery. I think she is positioned to breakout soon and become a star.
The rest of the supporting cast is very good as well. Anna Camp and Brittany Snow play off each other well as the only returning members of the Bellas. As Lily (a “low talker” in the Seinfeld vernacular), Hana Mae Lee has some great non sequiturs. It’s not just the girls that are great; the few male characters that are developed are good as well. Skylar Astin was charming as Beca’s possible love interest Jesse and newcomer Ben Platt was wonderfully weird as Jesse’s roommate Benji. Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are reliably humorous as the color commentators for the a cappella competitions (an idea that in and of itself is pretty funny).
Not only is the movie very amusing, but I also enjoyed the musical performances quite a bit as well. The one thing I generally did like on Glee was the singing and Pitch Perfect features lots of great songs. Who doesn’t love a good mash-up? I particularly enjoyed the riff-off that the various a cappella groups at Barden had. My favorite Kelly Clarkson song “Since You’ve Been Gone” is also featured prominently in the film, so that made me happy. In this day in age you can never tell if the actors are actually singing (though I think faking a cappella is a little harder), but this seems to be a fairly musically talented group.
All of these good points are not to say that the film is not fairly predictable. It definitely is in a lot of ways. Pitch Perfect is a straight up musical comedy, so if you are looking for some real deep soul searching or realistic solutions to problems, you are in the wrong place. The dialogue tries a little too hard in some places to be cute. But the cast handles the material so well that I didn’t even mind that they story was pretty much dictated by the first few scenes. I was laughing too hard to really care.
Some other thoughts:
- I generally don’t like puns, but I make exceptions for restaurants (as a kid I wanted to open a Chinese Restaurant called “Wok this Way”), fantasy sports teams (“Wherever I May Romo”) and a cappella groups. So it made me smile that the other dominant signing group at the school is called the Treblemakers.
- I thought I was the only one that noticed that Beca wore chipped off nail polish in the film, but it turns out that I wasn’t. I’d love if that became a trend again, since as I type this I am looking at some fingers in desperate need of new polish.
- I’ll admit it – I like Miley Cyrus’ song “Party in the USA.”
- I have a friend who looks amazingly like Anna Kendrick, so even though I enjoy the actress it messes with my head a bit (and yes, CP, if you are reading, I’m talking about you)
- If you suffer from emetophobia, you may want to skip this film. Just saying.
- I was surprisingly not annoyed with my fellow movie goers at this screening – no infants, no cell phones, no annoying chatter during the film. Well done, people!
Pitch Perfect is a fun little movie – it won’t change the world and it isn’t going to win any awards. But if you go into the theater and just want to have a good time, you shouldn’t be disappointed. Pitch Perfect may hit a false note every once in a while with its predictability and trying-too-hard dialogue, but the laughter in the theater will make it less noticeable. Pitch Perfect was a pleasant little surprise.