Is Jason Moore's college a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect just an extra-long episode of Glee? "That's high school," sniffs Christopher Mintz-Plasse. "This shit is real life." Which, actually, it is—sorta. The flick is inspired by GQ journalist Mickey Rapkin's 2009 non-fiction book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, and the result is such a wicked blast that I reckon it's mere minutes until another studio options Rapkin's equally film-friendly follow-up Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor. Pitch Perfect is cut from the same competitive cloth as Bring it On: it's snotty blonde Chloe (Brittany Snow) and her Barden Belles—aka the fading greats—versus their more-talented rivals, the all-male Treblemakers, who swagger around campus like rock stars. ("They're the coolest kids on campus," swoons would-be Treblemaker Ben Platt, "not including actual cool people.") And when an alterna-hipster outsider (Anna Kendrick) takes sides, the fight gets even more fierce. Like with Bring it On, Universal—the studio who made both—has another slow burn success on their hands, a flick that won't open huge, but will hit high notes once early audiences sing its praises.
It's weird how Anna Kendrick gets younger and younger. In 2009, she played a cutthroat businesswoman in Up in the Air. Three years later, she's a punky college freshman, her perky good looks grunged out by green nailpolish and black eyeliner. Kendrick wants to be a DJ, a career her clueless dad only associates with Rick Dees. When she learns the one DJ club on campus stands for "Deaf Jews," she's forced to accept that her only musical outlets are stacking CDs at the alt radio station, a fiefdom run by hot senior Freddie Stroma, and joining the Barden Belles, a starchy group of snobs who've alienated every singer on campus by only accepting girls with bikini-ready bodies, even rejecting one songbird because her nipples looked like salamis. And if one of their girls dares make out with a Treblemaker, they have a choice between excommunication or having their vocal cords ripped out by wolves. But after club president Snow, a blonde who perennially looks like she's practicing to be an airline stewardness, blew chunks onstage and cost the team a win at Nationals, the Belles have forced to lower their membership standards. Enter the freaks: murmuring psychopath Hana Mae Lee, butch diva Ester Dean (who in real life wrote Rihanna's "Rude Boy"), big-boobed hottie Alexis Knapp, and most gloriously, Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy, self-named "so twig bitches like you don't do it behind my back."
Rebel Wilson is the peroxided Aussi who stole scenes as Kristen Wiig's roommate in Bridesmaids, and this is the role that will turn her into a star. As she's still trying to carve out her own niche in Hollywood—like Bridesmaids' other breakout comedian Melissa McCarthy, she doesn't fit into a prefab box—Wilson's roles, all mostly minor, are variations on her persona: a blowsy, confident blonde whose casual, almost sleepy comic delivery distracts from the fact that she's hilariously, thrillingly crude. Moore frees Wilson to get weird and she could very easily gobble up the film if she weren't such a generous ensemble performer. (Not like McCarthy who, though fantastic, popped out of her scenes like she'd slathered herself in highlighter.)
Hipster rapper Har Mar Superstar and Donald Faison (a key part of last generation's great teen comedy Clueless) have cameos as bitter a cappella legends, and Mintz-Plasse makes the most of his two scenes as the emcee of Barden's savage auditions. But the best small surprise is Elizabeth Banks and comedian John Michael Higgins, who pop up as a cappella announcers nattering away a thoroughly insane running commentary on the awards showdowns. It feels like they were given ten Redbulls and told to improv, and the result is fabulously foul-mouthed jokes like Banks reminiscing about her own singing group, the Minstrel Cycles.
Knowledge of the arcanery of collegiate a cappella is unnecessary to enjoy this skewering of what Snow describes as synchronized lady dancing to a top chart Mariah Carey song. ("Not lame," she insists.) Though if you or a loved one has survived Regionals, I'm dying to know if actual competitors do use nouns like "acapeople," "acapolitics," and, when peevish, "acabitches." However, expertise in karaoke—or an least an associates degree in absorbing top 40 radio—is a bonus for a movie with an extended medley to Kelly Clarkson's "Since You Been Gone," a lusty street battle brawl starring "No Diggity," gratuitous digs at Ace of Base's "The Sign," and a scene centered on Kendrick's too-cool refusal to sing Miley Cyrus. What, you think you could resist? Pshaw. Pitch Perfect proves no one is too cool for the perfect pop song.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Banks, Alexis Knapp, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director: Jason Moore
Producers: Elizabeth Banks, Paul Brooks, Max Handelman
Screenwriter: Kay Cannon
Rating: PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references.
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: October 5, 2012
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