I must admit that in my pre-blogging days the whole Pitch Perfect phenomenon completely passed me by. Due to the fuss surrounding the recently-released sequel (the imaginatively-titled Pitch Perfect 2) and its impressive box office performance, I decided I ought to satisfy my curiosity and check out the original sleeper hit.
I wasn’t disappointed, although I think Pitch Perfect is a ‘good’ comedy, rather than a ‘great’ one. It’s certainly an uplifting film, thanks to the amusing and plentiful a cappella song-and-dance routines performed by the cast members, a few of whom make a lasting impression. Lead Anna Kendrick stands out as wannabe DJ Beca, who finds an outlet for her creativity in all-female collegiate a capella group The Bellas, while Rebel Wilson also impresses as sarcastic and occasionally offensive sidekick Fat Amy. Unlike the majority of teen comedies, which tend to be overly reliant on a couple of standout characters for chuckles, several others here prove to be consistently funny: there’s Hana Mae Lee’s ridiculously quiet singer Lily (a good running joke that never becomes tiresome), Anna Camp’s uptight group leader Aubrey and Adam DeVine’s Bumper, the arrogant leader of rival a capella group The Treblemakers, to name but a few. Christopher Mintz-Plasse pops up in a cameo, while John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks play a pair of ESPN-style commentators (though this is a rip off of the Jim Piddock / Fred Willard double act of Best In Show, which, it must be said, is far funnier).
I did like the way that Kay Cannon’s script, adapted from Mickey Rapkin’s novel Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, establishes a wink-wink alternative reality in which a capella singers are the cool kids of the fictional Barden University and groups like The Treblemakers even have their own fans (and, it seems, recognition outside of campus). It piggybacks on Glee to a certain extent, with the clear intention of capitalising on that show’s cultural breakthrough and attracting the same audience, but Pitch Perfect does go a little further with its knowing humour and its on-stage gags hit the target more often (even if they are occasionally as basic as relying on some mid-song projectile vomiting).
The ingredients for success are clear enough. The story may be as straightforward and predictable as they come but the performances deliver likeable characters, the screenplay contains a few zingers (though I’d warrant that just as many laughs come from the improvisational skills of Wilson, if not more), while real-life a cappella musicians Ed Boyer and Deke Sharon deserve praise for their inventive arrangements. It was also a wise move to bring in Jason Moore, perhaps better known for offbeat Broadway productions like Avenue Q and Jerry Springer – The Opera, as director: he may be handling a formulaic piece but he obviously knows how to make a stage performance look exciting and he knows who the stars of his film are.
Not a classic, by any means, and the will-they-won’t-they relationship at the heart of the story is tedious, but I found myself laughing along regularly and my foot was tapping along to the singing throughout, particularly during a ‘riff off’ a cappella battle and the competition finale (national championships … guess who wins). Little wonder that it proved to be so successful, and no surprise that those who liked it have been packing out cinemas to see the sequel.
Directed by: Jason Moore.
Written by: Kay Cannon. Based on Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory by Mickey Rapkin.
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Adam DeVine, Brittany Snow, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins.
Cinematography: Julio Macat.
Editing: Lisa Zeno Churgin.
Running Time: 112 minutes.