“At last,” said the scientist, her test tube glistening in the fluorescent light of the laboratory, “we have found this decade’s Bring It On!” She smashed the tube to the floor, and out of the smoke emerged a smiling Anna Kendrick and a krumping Rebel Wilson.
They saw the sign.
Unto every generation is unleashed a high school or college movie that speaks to everyone. Kirsten Dunst brought it to us twelve years ago, and now Anna Kendrick and a troupe of considerably less Aryan, less Buffy alumni, types are prepared to bring it to the next level.
Pitch Perfect is a smile of a movie, designed to make the audience feel good the whole way through without manipulating them into doing that. It’s got a lot of laughs, too, with the audience reacting to some deliberately horrible jokes (“a ca’scuse me?”) even on their fourth go-round.
For something that could have easily been a cynical exercise in selling endless horrible sounding covers on iTunes, rather more thought went into this film than many might have suspected. This is ultimately not a musical, but a comedy about a group of girls who become friends, and the alternately awful and misguided boys who they have designated as their enemies.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) wants to be a music producer, but her estranged father (John Benjamin Hickey) forces her to attend the university at which he teaches. On her first day on campus, Beca is ambushed by the disgraced a cappella group the Barden Bellas and inveigled into their number. With their sights set on the grand final, this disparate crew of young ladies “making music with their mouths” have to work hard to achieve their almost-mutual dream.
This is a simple idea, and one that has been done countless times before: cynical girl learns the value of comradeship through team work and cooperation. This sort of film lives and dies on the strength of its cast and characters, and Kendrick is more than adequate to head such a movie. She’s always had a presence, and here she’s got an excellent cast to bounce off of. People who consider the character too negative aren’t watching for her blatant transformation as the film progresses: a matter of attitude rather than personality, more of a natural progression than a She’s All That removal of the glasses and letting down of the hair.
More of a revelation is Rebel Wilson, who was a funny diversion in Bridesmaids; here she’s allowed to retain her accent and apparently make up whatever she likes about Australia. She’s from Tasmania in the NT, she’s simultaneously wrestled a dingo and a crocodile, and she was in a production of Fiddler on the Roof with a cast of Aboriginal actors (“it was very Jewish”). It’s almost credible that Fat Amy’s dialogue was entirely unscripted, rather than simply embellished. The character is Wilson to the core while still working within the context of the movie.. She didn’t have much to do in the somewhat underrated Bachelorette (that is to say, Bachelorette wasn’t irredeemably horrible), but here she steals the show. I have no real interest in seeing her as Chris Colfer’s sidekick in Struck By Lightning, but Pitch Perfect acts as an effective showreel. You could easily tune out her worming about in the background of Bridesmaids, but here she’s inescapable.
Even without the seemingly spontaneous outbursts of Wilson, Pitch Perfect is a film that knows what works and what is funny. Sometimes it seems to rely too heavily on race (at the beginning Beca’s relationship with her Korean roommate Kimmy Jin seems like they’re trying to make the “it’s funny because she’s Asian” argument, which they do end up mostly defusing), but mostly the film is narratively and comedically organic – except when it deliberately plays up the extreme close-ups of the strange and soft voiced Lily (“I was born with gills like a fish,” “I set fires to feel joy”), or a late stage scene strangely reminiscent of Team America: World Police. Most importantly, the bonds between the girls feel real, and the strange university they attend where nobody bothers to go to classes and where people perform songs in drained swimming pools seems more credible than those in films where people are expected to learn something and have experiences.
Pitch Perfect is not art, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s formulaic, but the formula is not tired or boring. It works and feels fresh, but most of all what it does not feel like is a product. It’s far from the best film that I’ve seen this year, but Pitch Perfect is something that I can recommend unreservedly.