According to “Pitch Perfect,” the feature debut from director Jason Moore, college acapella has for too long been a man’s world.
This film follows the comedic travails of the Barden Bellas of Barden University, an all-girl acapella group trying to change the rules of the game. The women want to break through the “acapella glass ceiling” and unseat all-boy national champions the Treblemakers, who also hail from Barden. (It’s quite the acapella-friendly campus there.)
This year’s Bellas, led by control freak Aubrey (Anna Camp)—who has a penchant for vomiting everywhere whenever she gets too stressed out or feels she’s not getting her way—are a “barnyard explosion” in the eyes of their competition: weird girls who don’t fit in anywhere else and probably don’t belong in acapella either.
The motliest of this motley crew may be Beca (Anna Kendrick), who only winds up on the team when one zealous Bella discovers the power of her vocal cords in the dormitory shower room.
Beca thinks she’s cooler than acapella, way cooler—and cooler, in fact, than college in general. She wants to be a DJ/producer, but her professor dad has forced her to try school for a year and to participate in extracurricular activities that take her well out of her comfort zone. Before she knows it, acapella has taken over her life.
Where this character’s going is no surprise: as she sheds her arrogance and some anger over her parents’ divorce, Beca starts to win support among the Bellas for the new musical ideas that have been germinating in her head—ideas to make the group more contemporary and competitive. She also realizes she has a super potential boyfriend (Skylar Astin), whom she’s been unfairly treating as a nonentity.
The pixie-ish Kendrick shows in “Pitch Perfect” that she can succeed as an appealing lead. But most of the laughs go to Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy, the group’s resident wild woman. She’s the heart of the Bellas (and certainly not the brains).
“Pitch Perfect” has a very funny screenplay from Kay Cannon, who honed her skills on the “30 Rock” TV show. She instinctively knows how to walk that fine line between outright satire and genuine respect: the film makes fun of the world of acapella competitions (“aca-politics”) while making the case for acapella as this amazing art form that gives young people a transformative avenue of expression. Most of all, Cannon keeps the punch lines coming fast the whole way through.
Unfortunately, this film’s not immune to Hollywood’s need these days to stuff every youth-oriented comedy with racial jokes, gay jokes, and plenty of gross-out humor. It’s where we’re at as a culture, apparently. There’s a squirm-inducing bit about a campus club for deaf Jews and a whole mess of stereotyping of Asian-American students.
It may be hard to believe that such an unoriginal and sometimes immature film is one of the more enjoyable comedies of 2012, but it is. “Pitch Perfect” is not necessarily anything special, but it makes a concerted effort to stay funny—which, come to think of it, is something special in this day and age.