Drummers have "Drumline", cheerleaders have "Bring it On", football players have "Friday Night Lights", and now a cappella fans have "Pitch Perfect", in which director Jason Moore (who also directed the Broadway musical "Avenue Q") teams up with writer Kay Cannon ("30 Rock") to bring Mickey Rapkin’s book to the big screen and “acafans” everywhere. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I myself belong to the aforementioned group of acafans (having participated in collegiate a cappella for a few years now) but, after catching an advanced screening, I’m confident that moviegoers of all backgrounds will be satisfied with "Pitch Perfect".
The film follows Barden University freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick) as she tries to navigate the complex and dramatic world of collegiate a cappella as a member of the fictional female group, The Barden Bellas. Along the way we meet fellow aca-newcomer Fat Amy (played by a brilliant Rebel Wilson, best known for her hilarious role in "Bridesmaids"), Bella veteran Chloe (Brittany Snow) and leader Aubrey (Anna Camp). Beca, a rebellious introvert and aspiring DJ, is motivated to join The Bellas by Chloe (who corners Beca in the shower and forces her to sing) and her concerned professor-father. The Bellas are looking to redeem themselves after a dismal showing at last year’s ICCA Nationals (you’ll find out why in the first few minutes of the film -- I won’t spoil it for you), and are constantly battling with their bad boy counterparts, the all-male Trebletones. Quickly finding out that, much to her dismay, the Bellas aren’t about originality (instead preferring to stick to the same traditional, lackluster repertoire that’s been their specialty in the past) Beca decides to shake things up a bit. Throw in a Trebletone love-interest (played by Skylar Astin), a heaping portion of aca-related puns, and what surely must have been the entire supply of fake vomit in the continental U.S.A., and you’ve got a pretty interesting view into the world of collegiate a cappella.
Kendrick does well with her role, but isn’t given all that much to work with as a character. Beca seemed a bit static and dull compared to the outlandishness of many other characters, though, in many ways, her normalcy is refreshing amidst such ridiculousness. Yes, we know she is a “rebel,” but we only occasionally see snippets of this. Instead, the Beca we’re usually treated to is mainly a creative and introverted student with a particular affection for creating her own music. Kendrick is charming and an excellent singer (she has a Broadway history, already notching a Tony nomination by age twelve) so it doesn’t detract from the film, and gives her the believable “blank canvas” that’s really necessary to fully deliver the film’s “feel good” aspects.
The film truly shines, however, with the characters of Fat Amy (Wilson) and Lilly (a surprisingly hilarious Bella member played by Hana Mae Lee). Wilson’s character seems to have been written specifically for her (and I wouldn’t be surprised if this were actually the case) and she carries the film, throwing herself fully into comedic glory. Her one-liners, sass, and general awesomeness is masterful, and there were several times where she had the entire theater snorting with laughter. It’s worth seeing the film just for her character, everything else aside. Lee plays Lilly, a nearly unintelligible member of the Bellas who speaks so quietly that no other members can hear her. Fortunately for us, we can, and the things she says are hilarious and comically macabre.
I have to be honest: when I first stepped into the theater (having watched the trailer several times beforehand) I expected to watch what was, essentially, a two-hour episode of "Glee". Projectile vomiting aside, the two had their similarities -- a diverse group of students decides to try to break down boundaries through their music, all the while overcoming external adversities and finding love/friends/themselves (and so on and so forth). "Pitch Perfect" has similar shortcomings -- forgotten subplots, stunted character development, some superficial stereotypes, and more deus ex machina than most nineteenth century operas -- and it requires a suspension of disbelief and skepticism to enjoy the film completely.
Where "Pitch Perfect" is successful, however, is by taking the positive aspects of "Glee" and combining them with raunchy humor, attitude, and a more mature examination of what it means to be part of a musical group or academic community in general. Reaching beyond the unfortunately small world of a cappella, the film highlights the broader freshman experience -- a new roommate (possibly international), awkward parents, an overenthusiastic RA who hands out rape whistles, the initial awkwardness and overwhelm of your first activities fair, and trying to find your place in a large campus community and direction in a life that seems filled with options and possibilities. Add in unadulterated humor that’s carried out to the fullest by some fantastic female comedic powerhouses, and you’ve got a pretty solid film with some wide appeal that non-acafans will enjoy for the same reasons audiences loved "Bridesmaids".
But, let’s be serious, that’s not why most of us will (or already have) see it. A sizable portion of moviegoers will be a cappella singers, alumni, fans, and enthusiasts, and these people will love and embrace it wholeheartedly. I found it particularly poignant when Beca cluelessly reacts to the concept of making music using only voices (or, as she puts it, “organized nerd singing”) because almost any a cappella member has seen that reaction from parents, relatives, or other adults when explaining how a cappella works. Moreover, acafans will be able to relate to the groups, characters, music, and competitions portrayed in the film. While watching the film, I found it impossible not to replace different characters and groups with names and faces that I know -- including myself and my own group. "Pitch Perfect" is everything it should be -- great music, snappy comedy, and an honest look into the world of collegiate a cappella -- and it’s bound to become an instant aca-classic.
“Pitch Perfect” open in select theaters on September 28, and comes out everywhere October 5. http://www.pitchperfectmovie.com
Get the soundtrack: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/dont-stop-the-music/id561460813?i=561460961
NOTE: CASA's founder, Deke Sharon, was an arranger/music director on the film.
About the writer:
Gabrielle Cornish is a senior at the University of Rochester, where she is double majoring in Music and Russian Studies with a specific research interest in Russian musicology. Though primarily trained in classical percussion, she also plays guitar, piano, and sings. Additionally, she is the musical director for Rochester's Trebellious Co-ed A Cappella, for which she has arranged several songs.