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Non-Review Review: Pitch Perfect

This movie was seen as part of Movie Fest, which is as much of a joy this year as it was last year.

Pitch Perfect seems like a recipe for a disaster. It’s a college pseudo-coming-of-age comedy set in the competitive world of acapella, with a women’s group fighting to break “the acapella glass ceiling.” (We’re told – by a commentator described as “a misogynist at heart” – that “woman are about as good at being acapella singers as they are at being doctors.”) However, the film is a joy to watch, a light feel-good film with a wonderful charm and a bright wit about it, brought to life by a fantastic cast working off a wry script. It’s never too heavy, and it never insists upon itself, but it’s engaging and fun in a way that makes it hard to resist.

Anna-phonic sound…

If Pitch Perfect has a secret weapon, it’s Anna Kendrick. Don’t get me wrong, the entire ensemble are pitched well against each other. However, Kendrick is tasked with playing the central character following an arc that we know by heart. Attending college at her father’s behest and dying to move to Los Angeles to start “paying [her] dues”, we know that it’s inevitable that Beca will eventually find something that she cares about, undoubtedly hooking up with a disarmingly handsome and charming boyfriend along the way. Beca is whip-smart and has a natural aptitude for everything she sets her mind to, and it seems like the character is positioned in such a way that she would be difficult to like.

However, Kendrick does an astounding job in the lead role. I honestly think that Anna Kendrick is perhaps one of the best emerging talents in the industry, as much as an Oscar-nominated actress could be described as an emergingtalent. Kendrick has a great sense of comedic timing and delivery, but she’s also got genuine dramatic chops. It’s Kendrick’s performance that keeps us invested in Beca as she moves through a story that is as carefully choreographed as any of the dance routines featured in the film. We come to care about Beca, and that’s pretty much down to Kendrick. I really hope that this opens up more lead roles to the young actress, as she really deserves to be much more prominent.

A key player…

To be fair, the script is also effective at dealing with the fact that we’ve all seen this movie before. Not this movie, of course – the acapella setting does give the movie a unique feel – but the broad strokes. This is, after all, the story of young person struggling to find their way in the world by taking up a hobby in which they turn out to have an unforeseen talent. The script executes the premise in a decidedly smart manner – instead of playing all of its beats entirely seriously, it’s more concerned with having a bit of fun.

The movie acknowledges its genre by dwelling quite heavily on The Breakfast Club. In fact, the movie genre that it seems to aspire towards is acknowledged as plot point, with the iconic ending to John Hughes’ classic playing as a vital plot point. It’s a move that has to be handled delicately, as it could come across as cheap or lazy quite easily. The script and Kendrick both carry off the moment perfectly.

Duet time?

There’s also a wonderful sense of fun about everything, as the movie refuses to take itself too seriously. There’s a lovely scene featuring what can only be described as a gang-fight between three rival acapella gangs, which seems wonderfully ridiculous. There are late night meetings that play out like something from The Fast and the Furious. The characters repeatedly prefix words with “aca-“, like “aca-awesome.” Although I will concede that I might indeed take up that last habit.

While this is Kendrick’s show, the supporting cast are on fine form. Brittany Snow is great as the most rational of the acapella “old guard.” Rebel Wilson is charming and frequently hilarious as the mandated “quirky friend.” However, the real joy comes from the rather surreal partnership of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks as bitter old acapella commentators, who seem to do nothing but make pithy swipes at the contestants and passive-aggressively pick on each other.

Talk about starting off on a sour note…

In fact, later in the movie, there’s a wonderful sequence that sees the pair investigating a potential violation of the competition rules. Paying a house-call to the suspect, the two act as if cracking a career-making case, with Higgins shooting the offender the perfect look of utter contempt for daring to undermine the integrity of acapella. It works really well, and it’s the perfect example of the film’s wry self-awareness.

This is director Jason Moore’s first feature film, and he acquits himself superbly. There’s a deft balance of the sweet and the crude, but he also manages to stage the musical numbers in such a way that they’re easy to follow and yet surprisingly kinetic. Most of the time Moore wisely allows his actors considerable room to work, but he stages the musical sequences in a delightfully engaging manner. I found myself tapping along from time-to-time.

A band of brothers? Or, at least, bros?

Okay. Pitch Perfect is a fairly conventional film. In fact, it’s easy enough to figure out what’s going to unfold from the moment the movie opens. However, it executes that most recognisable of coming-of-age story templates in a manner that is charming, engaging and fun. Pitch Perfect is well worth your time.

2 Responses

  1. Sounds promising, I want to watch this now!

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