With Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Skylar Astin. Written by Kay Cannon. Directed by Jason Moore. Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references. 112 minutes.
There will be some who want to compare PITCH PERFECT to “Bridesmaids,” but they will be wrong. Yes, both are about bonding among a group of women – in this case collegiate a cappella singers – and both have their share of lowbrow humor. Yet in terms of characters, pacing, writing, and sheer wit, this is one of the funniest films of the season. This is the movie “Bridesmaids” might have been.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) arrives on campus not really wanting to be there but her father is a professor and so she’s getting a free ride. Her goal is to be a DJ, but her father insists she give college a try, including making an effort to get involved in the school’s social life. For reasons that are never explained but you just have to accept, a cappella singing (i.e., without instrumental accompaniment, or “in the manner of the chapel”) is a big deal at her school with no less than four different groups competing with each other and hoping to get into regional and national competitions.
Beca finds herself recruited by the Bellas, an all-female group that has made the nationals but is locked into old-fashioned songs and routines. The group’s leaders (Brittany Snow, Anna Camp) have differing opinions as to what Beca can offer, while Beca isn’t even sure she wants to be there. Meanwhile, the other new members are a hilarious group of misfits, including “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson) who calls herself that to head off someone else doing it first.
In terms of plot, this is strictly formula: the misfit Bellas are humiliated by a rival male group and so the whole story is about getting the two groups back in the national competition again. Usually, this plot is used for sports comedies (“The Bad News Bears,” “The Mighty Ducks,” “Major League,” etc., etc. etc.) but it serves the purpose here as well. What makes it work are the characters. Beca develops a friendship with Jesse (Skylar Astin) from the rival group, and their friendship grows over his insistence that she learn to appreciate the classic John Hughes movie “The Breakfast Club.” Other members of the Bellas are off the wall including Lilly (Hannah Mae Lee) who can barely make herself heard but who has some of the film’s funniest lines. Wilson, the Australian comedian/actress who was actually in “Bridesmaids,” is seen to much better effect here as a character who is comfortable in her own skin even if others don’t know what to make of her.
Yes, there are couple of jokes involving projectile vomiting, and the second time really is disgusting overkill, but then there’s John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks doing color commentary on the competitions with hilarious throwaway lines. We’re in a world that revolves around a cappella singing. It may make no sense to you, but it doesn’t have to, so long as it makes sense in the world on screen. In fact, the idea that everyone is taking it so seriously is part of the joke.
“Pitch Perfect” is good silly fun, and Anna Kendrick has emerged as a young actress to watch. In movies like “Up in the Air,” “50/50” and “End Of Watch” she’s been a real plus, even if her brief appearances can’t redeem the “Twilight” movies beyond their core audience. This may be a minor effort, but it has a lot of laughs and serves as an indicator that Kendrick could have a very long career ahead of her.***
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.