Film Review: Pitch Perfect

The quality of the material may not be the highest, but the energy and execution of it certainly is in this appealingly sprightly investigation of the world of a capella.

The influence of “Glee” continues apace. At Barden University, it’s all about a capella groups and the big annual competition these falsettos and deep-bass impersonators are viciously vying to win. New student Beca (Anna Kendrick) finds herself unwillingly pulled into an all-girl team, The Bellas, by ambitious Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp), who disgraced herself at the last contest by nervously barfing onstage. Beca, who really wants to be a cutting-edge DJ, has her own issues with intimacy and commitment, which seriously impede her relationship with Jesse (Skyler Astin), who sings with the rival all-boys group, The Treblemakers.

Director Jason Moore, who helmed Broadway’s Avenue Q, clearly has the right love and feel for the material in Pitch Perfect and briskly makes the most of Kay Cannon’s drily snarky script. There are a lot of bitchy laughs and funny lines such as The Bellas’ habit of saying things like “Aca-awkward!” and the writing happily avoids the self-congratulatory p.c. mawkishness which periodically drags down “Glee.” There are a couple of droll Asian characters: Beca’s eternally sullen roommate (Jinhee Joung) and a hilarious, barely audible girl (Hana Mae Lee) who has somehow found herself in The Bellas. Cannon’s writerly looseness never explains that, and she hasn’t really provided enough witty dialogue for the actors, so it is up to them to pick up the slack.

Happily, they are more than up to the task, even with a dearth of consistently strong material; they’re probably ad-libbing like mad. Kendrick skillfully suggests Beca’s underlying complexities without making too heavy weather of it, and is an ingratiating guide to this weirdly melodic world. Voluptuous Rebel Wilson, who was the only bit of discernible humanity in Bachelorette, is immensely likeable as The Bellas’ “Fat Amy” (“I call myself that before you twig bitches can”). She has a lusciously pretty face and a varied repertoire of fresh reactions and moves (like her “mermaid dance”), which joyously pull focus whenever she’s onscreen.

Camp and Snow do their witchy and less-witchy roles with smooth efficiency. Co-producer Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins play the competition judges with apt sarcasm if less-than-stellar lines. The rambunctiously talented Adam DeVine steals every scene he’s in as Bumper, the ace of The Trebles, who drops the group when John Mayer throws him a bone, and is much more appealing than the essentially bland Astin. That actor is not helped by his character’s empty pretentiousness, as, when trying to woo the movie-phobic Beca, he cites E.T., Rocky and that Gen X, Y and Z holy of holies, The Breakfast Club, as the best musically scored movies ever. (Ever heard of Bernard Herrmann?) .

The true dazzle here is provided by the musical numbers, which, as spiffily choreographed by Aakomon Jones, really sizzle. I’m not sure which actors actually did their own singing, but suffice it to say that pop-schlock songs like “The Sign,” “Since U Been Gone” and “Titanium” are given such spirited workouts, they actually sound better here than in their original renditions. An after-school informal sing-off between The Bellas and The Treblemakers has a breathtaking brio, with song after song piling up into a pretty glorious vocal mash-up. Such pleasures gleefully override an unfortunate second vomiting scene for Aubrey—a too-Bridesmaids gross-out moment—and the inappropriate Vogue-ing choreography which undermines the would-be devastating “Don’t You Forget About Me” presentation which ultimately reunites the estranged Beca and Jesse.