Who knew there was such a big audience for a movie about collegiate a capella singing groups? The Glee concert movie tanked, didn’t it?
Pitch Perfect opened on only a couple of hundred screens last weekend, and one of these was at Regal Colonie Center. On a not completely unpleasant Saturday afternoon, that large theater was packed.
Jason Moore’s zippy musical comedy waves a capella nerdom like a hippy’s freak flag: high and wide. There are singing clubs caught up in cutthroat competitions, a capella rumbles in abandoned swimming pools, and teenage oaths given the weight of contracts signed in blood at the dark of the moon.
The story is centered on aspiring DJ and music producer Becca (wonderful Anna Kendrick, playing a character she outgrew a couple of years ago), who is being forced to attend college by her overbearing professor dad. To prove to pops that she’s capable of “joining in,” she auditions for the “Bellas,” the only all-women singing group on campus. The two lead “Bellas” are helpfully color-coded. Led by imperious blonde Aubrey (Anna Camp, as pleasingly brittle as she was in The Help, if less of a villain) and emotionally edgy ginger Chloe (Brittany Snow, alternately confident and needy), the Bellas sing and plot their way back to the national a capella finals at Lincoln Center, where a vomit-related catastrophe ended their dream at the film’s outset.
Attention gross-out humor aficionados: It’s a lot of vomit. We’re talking almost Team America levels of puke. But mostly, Pitch Perfect is wall-to-wall singing.
There’s a forgettable romance between Becca and a dude who is also a DJ-turned-singer, which takes over (and slows down) the picture too often for anyone’s enjoyment. The romance also serves as a pretext for a serious overdose of Breakfast Club nostalgia that has two big payoffs near the end of the film. The conventional payoff has Becca singing “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” as a romantic overture to the boy she previously spurned. The bent payoff arrives when Hana Mae Lee’s Lilly, who is gloriously weird, makes a snow angel in a hilariously disgusting setting. (Yep, think “puke.”)
There’s been a fair amount of pushback about this movie’s stereotypes, Lee included. Her character’s weirdness isn’t related to being Asian, however; Lilly owes as much to Milton Waddams as any Asian stereotype I can think of.
The film’s biggest (ha ha) scene-stealer is sassy Australian comedian Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. She calls herself Fat Amy because, well, she’s fat. And as it turns out that the character’s real name may not actually be “Amy,” it would seem that the character identifies first as “fat.” You may or may not be offended by this, but it’s hard to imagine any moviegoer not being charmed by Wilson’s serious comic chops.
The film is framed not simply by the singing competitions, but by the TV coverage of the competitions. (There’s a Nerd Singing Channel? Who knew?) Elizabeth Banks, who also served as one of the film’s producers, and John Michael Higgins are the play-by-play announcers; their unctuous manners and comic timing are truly best in show.
Pitch Perfect ends very nicely, with an accent on singing and comedy rather than romance. We all know that romance isn’t really for nerds, anyway.