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Combine the best of American Idol with the best of The Simpsons and, perhaps incredulously, you’ve got Pitch Perfect, a very funny and at times joyous ode to college a cappella groups. The debut work of director Jason Moore (who was nominated for a Tony for helming Avenue Q) and scripter Kay Cannon (a 30 Rock vet), the film also recalls a dulcet Mean Girls, Bring It On, and pretty much any other school-set tale about being a fish out of water, love-hate relationships, cliques, competition, and letting that little light of yours shine. It’s all so common, yet somehow so fresh.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) is an “alt-girl” who’s more interested in DJing than earning a degree when her professor father enrolls her at his university. She’s got an icy roommate, a job stacking records, and three people trying to get her attention: Two are Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Chloe (Brittany Snow), the leaders of The Bellas, the all-female a cappella (or “organized nerd singing”) group on campus. And the third is Jesse (Skylar Astin), her fellow record-store employee and member of the rival all-male Treblemakers. After much begging, particularly after hearing her sing in the shower, Aubrey and Chloe persuade Beca to join them. Jesse doesn’t have such good luck—at least, naturally, at first.
Official competition is what these groups are all about, although there is a particularly joyful impromptu “riff-off” between the two in which each has to sing a song about a particular subject, and the other team has to start another song by matching a word in the other’s. (Beca throws down a sex song with “No Diggity.” Note to filmmakers: Anna Kendrick, albeit a fine dramatic and comic actress, should sing in every role she has from now until she retires.) Highly entertaining commentary for these contests is provided by John Michael Higgins’ and Elizabeth Banks’ characters, the latter of whom gets excellent lines like, “There’s nothing that makes a woman feel more like a girl than a man that sings like a boy.”
Take note that now-hot Rebel Wilson is part of The Bellas, too, as the self-named Fat Amy, and not only does she provide laughs—plus-size-related or otherwise—but girlfriend can sing. She’s got a great moment in a competition in which she feverishly takes the lead, not only belting the notes but ripping her shirt off in the process. The performances overall are top-notch, lifting the film whenever it threatens to lose its sparkle or teeters toward thinness. (Such as when Jesse randomly yells at Beca, “You push away anybody that could ever care about you!” Um, OK, if the script says so.)
If all this sounds too sugary, rest assured that there are counters such as projectile vomiting (several instances) and a Bella who barely makes a sound, but says twisted things when you can hear her. (One thing the group didn’t know about her during sharing time? “I ate my twin in the womb.”) The ladies are the focus here, but the humor skews dudelike as often as it’s girly, and the requisite romance isn’t at the forefront. And the big finale? A-ma-zing—if, I suppose, you’re into that sort of thing. (And I consider myself a Glee-hater.) But anyone who appreciates talent should find themselves leaving the theater lighter than air.