Pitch Perfect | Jason Moore | 2012 | ★★★★
In our never-ending quest for originality in Hollywood films, more often than not we will come across films that rely on formula to succeed. That is not necessarily a bad thing since some of these formulas have been around since the inception of cinema and there is a reason why they have stuck around for so long. Times like this the question is not “how original is the story?” but “what will they do to refresh the formula?” Will they do so with great cinematography? With clever writing? By embracing the clichés? There are many ways filmmakers can go about freshening up an old story, but as we also know, most of the time they fail to do so. For a while Pitch Perfect looked as if it was just going to be one of those films. It looked like it was just going to try to capitalize on something that was popular (“Glee” in this case, which, if only for nine episodes, was one of the most original shows in television) with little to no effort to make it stand out. But I was dead wrong and the film not only turned out to be the most fun film of the year so far, but simply one of the best.
In Pitch Perfect, Beca (Anna Kendrick) plays an incoming freshman at Boston University. She’s there not because she wants to, but because her father forced her to. What she really wants is to movie to Los Angeles and become a famous DJ. One day, her dad says that if she joins a school organization, and stays there for one year, he will give her the money to move away, and so she follows his orders by joining the Bellas, one of the two big acapella groups on campus. However, the Bellas are coming off their worst season as during Nationals, Aubrey (Anna Camp) had an accident that prevented them from becoming the first all-female group to win. Now Aubrey is leading the Bellas and she is keen on taking them all the way by following the group’s tradition of only singing songs made popular by women, but with a group made up of Beca, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), and the quiet and mysterious Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), it’s not gonna be easy. Not only that, but the Treblemakers, the most popular group at BU, are stronger than ever with Jesse (Skylar Astin), Beca’s crush, joining them.
Pitch Perfect is not going to win any awards for originality since you can pretty much predict what is going to happen in each scene and when it is going to happen. It’s an underdog story, there’s the character who didn’t want to participate at first but learns to love it, there’s tension in the group thanks to the arrival of new people who do not fit the mold, and there’s even a side story of forbidden love. But even so, the script by Kay Cannon (who has written some great episodes of “30 Rock”), still has a few surprises that add to the fun. First off, rather than focusing on the feelings and personal drama of the character, it focuses on the competition, the teams, and what makes them tick. Yes, some of the running time is allotted to the relationship between Beca and Jesse but it actually works with the narrative rather than being and unnecessary side story. And the greatest thing about the scrip has to be how natural the character interactions are. While the film does indeed feel like in takes place in a heightened reality where acapella groups actually seem to matter, the dialogue, while not the greatest, sound like something people like these characters would say.
Helping with this is what could very well be the greatest achievement of the film: the casting. Rather than filling the entire cast with Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch models, director Jason Moore and the producers, among which is Elizabeth Banks, decided to cast regular-looking people of all shapes, colors, and sizes. While only a crazy person would call Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Anna Camp “plain” they most certainly do not fit the mold of your average Hollywood lead actress. But here they are leading this ensemble, along with Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Ester Dean, Ben Platt, Alexis Kanpp, and Hanna Mae Lee in important supporting roles, and they all give fantastic performances. In fact, Kendrick, Wilson, and Lee give some of the absolute best performances of the year.
And there’s even more to admire more to admire about the film. First, there’s the music, which takes a great deal of popular songs from the ’80s, ’90s, and more recent years and they make them their own, with some of them actually surpassing the originals (“Party in the USA,” “Please Don’t Stop the Music”), and the others being respectful alternates. Also, Moore, in his directing debut after working for many years on television and Broadway (he’s a Tony nominee for directing “Avenue Q”) brings great, but relatively subdued energy to the proceedings which allow the film to be a hyper-real crowd pleaser without ever getting to a point where what is happening on screen is completely unbelievable.
Obviously Pitch Perfect is not for everyone as some will not be able to overlook the clichés, they will hate the songs just because they are top 40 hits, or they will not be able to take the potty humor. However, for me, it is the perfect mainstream comedy that we need every once in a while.