A slightly flawed musical flick that's ultimately A ca-awesome for its admittedly limited genre and audience.
Before I start this review, I have some confessions to make. I'm a huge Glee fan. I enjoy the show's nonsensical plots, the song covers, and the occasional musical genius when it chooses to alter them. I don't like the show enough to blindingly ignore things that are wrong, but I might be willing to write some things off if the rest of the package is great. What you really need to know is, in this case, writing off imperfections is necessary to really enjoy Pitch Perfect.
A film like Pitch Perfect is reminiscent of both Glee and The Sing-Off (the canceled reality A Cappella competition) which means that Pitch Perfect is mostly about the music with some plot in between. I'm not going to try and lie to you and say to expect Shakespeare.
But for those of you who were looking forward to watching Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Rebel Wilson sing their guts out while indulging in this nutty comedy/musical...then you're in for quite an A ca-treat.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) dreams of being a DJ and the pursuit of those dreams causes her to push close relationships out of her life. When her father forces her to go to Barden College, she joins the Bellas (an all girl A Cappella group) that have fallen off the wagon as of late. Their leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) once ruined the Bellas' image during a competition so they have to learn how to accept a new more A ca-awkward bunch including the likes of Fat Amy, (Rebel Wilson) an extremely confident girl, Stacie (Alexis Knapp) who really likes sex, and Lilly, (Hana Mae Lee) a really quiet girl who can beatbox. With this group of unique individuals, Beca and the Bellas have to beat the likes of the Treblemakers (an all guy A Cappella group also from the same school) at the national college A Cappella competition.
If the plot summary comes across as generic...well that's because it is. That's why I had mentioned Glee. Pitch Perfect is outlined in a way that mirrors an entire season of Glee with the Bellas competing at Sectionals, Regionals, and Nationals. It also goes through very formulaic story beats beyond that. There's a central romance between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin) that goes through the same type of boy likes girl, girl is apprehensive, boy says stuff, boy and girl fight, boy and girl make up story. The wonderful thing about Pitch Perfect though is that it's aware of how formulaic it is. There are several 80s movie references (because Jesse wants to compose music for movies) and occasional jokes about how formulaic the film is that help to break up the occasional lapse in pace.
The formulaic progression of the film actually causes a few problems with the characters. There are several random occurances and revelations that seemingly make no sense at all because Pitch Perfect rushes through a whole semester of college and competitions (there are no less than three montages) without giving proper time to invest in its characters. For example, one of the revelations involves the leader of Treblemakers (hilariously played by Adam DeVine) as he leaves to Los Angeles to sing along with John Mayer on one of his albums leaving his group stranded. One minute he's there, and the next he's gone. The randomness of the scene is so noticeable that my own sister (who's a fan of Glee also and hardly notices its failings), who loved Pitch Perfect, had to question it afterward.
While the "traditional" plot may be holding it back at points, it isn't at all what helps keep the film afloat. In fact, one would be forgiven for forgetting there was a plot at all. Pitch Perfect relies entirely on its ensemble of comedic women and quality of its musical production. Thankfully, it succeeds here and it is the reason I enjoyed it the most. There's this running joke that each of the girls adds "A ca" before some of their words. You think it would be annoying or grating, but it isn't used overbearingly and has a comedic impact each time. While the only jokes that really miss are two very, very out of place vomit scenes that almost made me lose faith in the rest of the film. They go on way too long.
And boy, Anna Kendrick can sing. I thought it was a post production thing at first (where the musical producers could have altered her voice), but one standout moment of the film has Kendrick showing off her vocal chops when she sings David Guetta's "Titanium" in the shower with Brittany Snow. They both harmonize the song with one another and sound amazing. Awesomely enough, this level of talent is consistent across the board for the rest of the cast. Each girl brings her own set of palpable chops to the group. Adam DeVine, as the leader of the Treblemakers, surprisingly has a really good singing voice. Rebel Wilson brings both comedic chops and a well sounding voice. No role is wasted here.
Speaking of Rebel Wilson, I've said in the past about how I want there to be far more Rebel Wilson in our lives. In Pitch Perfect, Wilson as "Fat Amy" (whose name comes from the fact that she refuses to let other women call her fat behind her back) proves me correct as she nearly singlehandedly carries the film's humor. While some of the characters contribute a joke or two (like the mumblings of the quiet beatbox girl and Kendrick getting a few decent lines) Wilson gets the bulk of one liners and screen time. She may not be the main character, but some could argue that Wilson is the movie. It surprised people in the audience of the screening I attended that "Fat Amy" wasn't the main character. Having Anna Kendrick in the center was a little surprising given the Wilson focused advertising for Pitch Perfect.
Pitch Perfect's soundtrack is A ca-great. The music isn't just straight covers. Since Beca is a DJ, she mashes songs together all of the time (mainly current Pop music) and that flows into the soundtrack as Beca's mashing is thematically appropriate as she modernizes the traditional Bellas. One notable musical moment is the "Riff-Off" in the middle of the film. It has all of the collegiate A Cappella groups singing songs in unison in a rap battle fashion (a clip of which is embedded in this review). That and PP's version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone" are two of the best mash up songs that I have heard in a while.
The soundtrack does have some hang ups though. There is some lack of cohesion when Pitch Perfect at one moment has a great mash up of David Guetta's "Titanium" and The Proclaimers's "I'm Gonna Be" and then does a montage with the lackluster Nikki Minaj's "Starships" playing in the background without another song mixed in or an A Cappella cover. It seems like a missed opportunity. Also there are inexplicable instruments playing when some of the A Cappella groups perform. The film at least makes up for it some by briefly showcasing real life collegiate A Cappella groups such as The Whiffenpoofs.
Pitch Perfect is near A ca-perfect when it comes to the musical production. But it lacks in other areas such as its pacing and universal appeal. This is a polarizing film since it is strictly a genre movie. And you're either going to love it (especially so if you're a fan of shows like Glee or just enjoy songs currently on the radio) or you're going to want it to end if you really, really don't like singing or Pop music. If you're in that category, you might chuckle at some of the things Rebel Wilson gets to say but you won't have a good time. As for me, I loved it as a fan extremely limited of the "singing competition" genre, but everyone else might not feel the same.