Hits almost all the right notes
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, September 28, 2012
The last thing I expected to see in the credits for “Pitch Perfect” -- a comedy about the world of competitive collegiate a cappella that is as funny as it is infectiously toe-tapping -- was the phrase “based on a book.”
Unless that book had come out with a companion music CD, it’s hard to imagine it conveying the movie’s giddy sense of exuberance and, yes, silliness, generated by teams of young adults vying against each other in cutthroat singing contests, where the only weapon is the unaccompanied human voice. (Well, that and the occasional sock puppet. The film, which exhausts every conceivable pun on the term “a cappella,” features a group of singing puppeteers called Sockapella.)
Author Mickey Rapkin’s 2008 nonfiction book, which went behind the scenes at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, was the inspiration for screenwriter Kay Cannon, a writer and producer for “30 Rock.” Directed with brio by Broadway veteran Jason Moore (“Shrek the Musical”), Cannon’s script combines the obvious elements of “Glee” with the plot and snark of the 2000 competitive-cheerleading comedy “Bring It On.” Running through it all is the surreal DNA of “30 Rock,” coupled with that show’s satirical plausibility.
For the most part, it works brilliantly.
That’s largely due to the music, which the movie approaches with an attitude halfway between awe and skepticism. To its credit, “Pitch Perfect” totally gets one critical fact: A cappella singing contests are both a little bit amazing and a little bit ridiculous. The tone that the film strikes is a perfect balance between the two extremes.
Anna Kendrick also helps. In the lead role of Beca -- an alterna-chick who dreams of producing music in Los Angeles, and who only reluctantly joins her school’s all-female singing group, the Bellas -- Kendrick brings a healthy amount of amused detachment. Nominated for a Tony at the age of 12 for her performance in the musical “High Society,” she has a great set of pipes on top of a fine sense of comedy.
It’s also a real pleasure to see Rebel Wilson in the first role to truly showcase her talents since “Bridesmaids.” As Beca’s fellow Bella Fat Amy -- a character who co-opts her insulting nickname so that others won’t do it behind her back -- Wilson shines. She’s large and in charge, as she should be.
Skylar Astin is equally adorable as Beca’s soulful-eyed and golden-throated love interest, Jesse. And Adam Devine of “Workaholics” is deliciously mean as Bumper, the leader of the Bellas’ arch-rivals, the Treblemakers, for whom Jesse also sings.
Not that “Pitch Perfect” is perfect, by any means.
The humor is sometimes needlessly crass, racially insensitive and disgusting. A couple of projectile-vomiting scenes set a new standard for the lowbrow gag, which is fast becoming a hallmark of 21st-century comedy. The story itself is also overly familiar, and it drags at times, especially when the singing stops.
But, my oh my, when the movie just shuts up and lets us listen to these kids belt away, as it does in a very funny -- and unexpectedly thrilling -- outdoor “riff-off,” its goofy charms, like those of the music, are almost impossible to resist.
Contains sexual humor, crude language and drug references.