Pitch Perfect applies the Bring It On formula to competitive college a capella singing. That isn’t exactly the most inspiring logline for a film, and Pitch Perfect seems to know it. It’s keenly aware of how silly everything is, and fills the periphery with a lot of snark and silliness. The movie still stumbles as it fills out its quota of formula movie moments, but decent acting and a twisted sense of humor keep the film largely tolerable.
Freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick) dreams of moving to Los Angeles to become a DJ, but her professor dad insists that she go to college. The two make a deal: Beca is to join at least one club and make some friends, and if after a year she still wants to leave, her dad will help her make the move. Beca is cajoled into joining the Bellas, an all-female a capella group trying to reclaim former glory. The group is headed by Aubrey (Anna Camp), who insists that the group stick to tradition. Beca butts heads with her as she tries to push the group into a new direction that could give them the edge in this year’s competition.
The appeal of the movie is pretty much dependent on how much college-style a capella singing you can handle. The movie’s plot is as predictable as it gets, ticking boxes off a list of stuff that happened in Bring It On. The movie doesn’t really show much interest in the technical aspects of a capella singing, and is mostly built around the musical performances. The personal stuff in the plot is largely uninteresting, because the main character is written as too much of an entitled tool, and her problems only end up bloating the movie.
Everything hinges on the musical performances, which to the film’s credit are pretty good. They aren’t revelatory, and they aren’t very good representations of actual a capella singing, but they are at least boisterous and energetic. The film also gets points for not taking itself too seriously. It populates the cast with kooky characters, and defies expectations as it plays out a level of strangeness that just isn’t seen in too many mainstream movies. At one point, one of the characters quietly admits to having eaten a twin in the womb. Outside of the music, the film seems to find energy in letting things get a little absurd.
Her character may be written as a tool, but Anna Kendrick still manages to come off as strangely likable. It’s a real credit to her talent that she manages to keep the audience’s attention as the character muddles through subplots that ultimately don’t matter. Skylar Astin is just goofy enough to be charming, making an underdeveloped romance feel somewhat appealing. The comedy of the film leans heavily on the talents of Rebel Wilson, whose expert delivery and lack of vanity make her amazing at bringing the laughs. In the sidelines, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks bring plenty of self-deprecating oddness.
Pitch Perfect is ultimately a little too long. There are just a few too many characters, and the insipid conflict of Beca and her dad stop the movie dead. But in spite of that, it’s hard to imagine that people won’t smile at least once watching this movie. Even if you don’t enjoy any of the music, there’s a sense of weirdness in the fringes that helps make things a little more interesting, providing intriguing harmonies to the film’s more basic and clichéd melodies. Sustaining a smile through the entirety of the movie is more of a challenge, but those occasional pleasures are still worth something.