The time is ripe for a movie about collegiate a cappella. It has been all the rage for several years now, the idea of college students creatively raising their voices in song, ingeniously providing their own accompaniment.
There is some creative and energetic singing in "Pitch Perfect." It shows the kind of talent that's required in the absurd, competitive a cappella world. This isn't just Hollywood, either. Check out real-life college performances on YouTube.
"Pitch Perfect" chronicles nerdy Becca (Anna Kendrick) who arrives on campus loaded down with vinyl and sound equipment. She finds herself swept in spite of herself into the Bellas, the campus all-girl a cappella group. As they duke it out with their male rivals, the Treble Makers, you find yourself happily anticipating the next number.
There are some cute characters. Looming large is an Australian plus-sized beauty who goes by Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson).
"You call yourself Fat Amy?" stammer the Bellas' leaders.
"So no one will call me that behind my back," she retorts.
Throughout the movie it is Fat Amy who enjoys life and is surrounded by men. Yay, Fat Amy! A big brava to you.
Hats off, too, to Aubrey (Anna Camp), the alpha Bella. She is a bossy dream of a princess. On campus orientation day, surrounded by tattooed fellow students, Aubrey and her lady-in-waiting, Chloe (Brittany Snow), look like transplants from the 1950s. "Where can we find hot girls with perfect voices and bikini-ready bodies?" they fret.
It is to Aubrey that the movie owes its biggest laughs. In scenes that cater to the gross-out crowd, she vomits dramatically on stage at Lincoln Center. Sure, this is a comedy, but still, this is the movie's real heroine. She was able to transcend a moment so embarrassing that it would have driven most people permanently insane. Not only that, but she sticks to her squeaky-clean sensibilities in the face of unbelievable opposition.
Because it is a losing battle. "Pitch Perfect," in spite of Aubrey's better efforts, is not shy. The predictable message is that you have to be tarted-up and vulgar to impress the judges (who are, I admit, a lot of fun to watch).
But there are upsides, too, to the film's forthrightness. There is an extremely funny scene when Becca is singing in the shower, and Chloe hears her. "I knew you could sing!" Chloe exclaims, yanking the curtain and exposing the terrified nerd.
The movie is unflinching about taking aim at all kinds of groups: Jews, Asians, African-Americans, lesbians, whoever. Especially funny is a recurring joke centered on Becca's opaque Chinese roommate. The audience loved her.
Where "Pitch Perfect" goes flat is that, like too many comedies, it wastes time trying to be serious. Hollywood should just admit that it has no clue as to how real people behave. You have the girl being surly and mean when a guy likes her.
Then you have the guy telling her: "Every time someone tries to get close to you, you drive him away." (No men say that in real life, except for maybe shrinks.)
Luckily, unlike in real life, whenever the movie becomes less than perfect, there's a remedy for that.
Shut up and sing!
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson
Director: Jason Moore
Running time: 112 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for language, raunch and sexual content.
The Lowdown: A female college a cappella group gets desperate trying to take the championship away from the guys.