‘Pitch Perfect’ Review
What's wrong with a little good clean fun? While a cappella versions of the biggest pop hits of the '80s, '90s and today are not exactly my jam, a crowd-pleasing comedy with a few unexpected subversive moments can be. It would take a misanthrope of the highest order to dislike 'Pitch Perfect,' preposterous and predictable though it may be.
Anna Kendrick and her tank tops star as the freshman year "alternative girl" on campus wholly consumed with music. With Princess Leia-sized headphones permanently attached to her head she spends each moment making mashups on some rather complex looking iTunes plug-ins. Her college is "a ca-crazy" (and that pun is far from the worst) and while she scoffs at the all-girls group that went to nationals and choked last year, some overheard shower singing gets her nearly gang-pressed into service. Besides, the club she thought she wanted for DJs turned out to be for deaf Jews.
Soon she's hooked up with a group of colorful, one-dimensional characters like the histrionic (and projectile vomit-prone) leader, the over-sharing fat girl, the floozy, the lesbian and the spaced-out Asian who speaks in a quiet whisper. 'Pitch Perfect' is well aware of its shorthand and even uses the self-labeling closing essay from 'The Breakfast Club' as a leitmotif.
John Hughes' 1985 classic is introduced by Skyler Astin, the boy with whom she meets-cute jamming out to Kansas' "Carry on My Wayward Son." He's a recent pledge to the rival Treble Makers, who won nationals last year and is led by a talented, but extremely geeky Adam DeVine.
Casting DeVine (in the role of "Bumper," no less) is part of 'Pitch Perfect's' great wisdom. It makes no attempt to portray competitive a capella as anything other than ridiculous, and even the villains are basically likable. That doesn't mean the routines get wacky, but the absurd commentating from John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks is just as wonderful and absurd as Fred Willard's in 'Best in Show.'
There are a number of "where did that come from?" moments, one or two coming dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall, like when two characters we've never seen before are chastised for seemingly not even being there. ("We've literally been here the whole time!" they fire back.) This isn't to say all the jokes land. There are an inordinate number of dick jokes for a movie mostly populated by women, and an action set piece featuring Joe Lo Truglio and Jason Jones as old time a capell-ers falls horribly flat. Also: I was willing to overlook the fact that the inaudible Asian girl who drops non sequiturs like "I set fires to feel joy" had no business being in a singing group because I was convinced her "Chekov's gun" was going to be outstanding. Alas, it never really came.
Still, many of the musical battles and montages are tremendous. That I found myself toe-tapping to the same Kelly Clarkson song I routinely roll my eyes to at the CVS is something of a minor miracle. And once Anna Kendrick pushes her team over the top with the power of the all-mighty, hip and now remix and smooches her would-be rival, gosh darnit if I didn't feel tingly all over. Formula, when done well, still works. If you lean into the schmaltz it won't overpower you, and you can even ride it all the way to the championship.
'Pitch Perfect' hits select theaters September 28 and nationwide on October 5!
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.