There are moments in movies that can make you stop, take a breath and make you realise you’re watching something a little bit special.
It can be Joseph Gordon-Levitt standing in a street that turns into a beautifully rendered sketch in 500 Days of Summer, or Shailene Woodley sinking to the bottom of a swimming pool to scream in anguished sadness in The Descendents, or Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone singing and dancing their way through A Lovely Night in La La Land. In the case with Pitch Perfect, it’s Anna Kendrick using a cup to perform a song while auditioning for the The Barden Bellas.
It’s a lovely, unexpected moment of quirky joy that comes in a movie that has a brilliant a cappella soundtrack, Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins delivering some of the funniest commentary ever in a movie, Rebel Wilson practically improvising throughout her whole performance, and two scenes involving Anna Camp projectile vomiting on a scale not seen since the days of Linda Blair being possessed by a demon.
Filmed on a budget of $17 million and grossing over a $115 million worldwide, Pitch Perfect rightly became one of the highest grossing musical comedies, found an even larger audience in the home entertainment market, and has now spawned two sequels.
A movie centred around the world of a capella groups and competitions may sound like a movie that you can see how will play out, but with it combination of witty humour and wonderful characters, Pitch Perfect actually manages to be exactly that; perfect.
Taking its cue from Mickey Rapkin’s book of the same name (albeit a book that was a non-fiction account of a capella competitions) and anchored by a lead portrayal from Anna Kendrick, who is one of those performers who has the ability to be charming in every movie she is in without ever really needing to try, as well as hilarious support from Rebel Wilson and a cast that is close to perfect, the movie mixes laughs, subtle character humour, a touch of bad taste slapstick and absolutely brilliant musical performances that are mixed into the story and fabric of the movie so well, Pitch Perfect is one of those sleeper hits that came out of nowhere to be a complete and unexpected surprise and joy, and is dotted with so many moments that will make you smile, laugh and tap your feet despite your best intentions to not.
Best of all, the film’s ability to be incredibly funny and nicely dramatic is probably down to the fact that its three main players behind the scenes have come from a background in delivering fantastic comedy and drama on the small and big screens; director Jason Moore had called the shots on several episodes of Dawson’s Creek, Everwood and One Tree Hill, before going on to direct the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters, while Kay Cannon had actually been a writer on Fey’s 30 Rock, while producer and instigator of the series was Elizabeth Banks, who would actually go on to direct the film’s sequel.
With its college setting and musical numbers, not to mention ability to be both funny in a witty and slapstick manner, the film fits into a mould of college-set comedy, but manages to be charming and make the audience laugh without falling into cliché and obvious tropes, like resorting to bad taste jokes about body parts and bodily functions and typical sex humour. When it does do something bad taste like having Anna Camp projectile vomit in two key moments, it is still hilariously well done.
The thing that makes Pitch Perfect so impressive is in its ability to be very much a female driven film. There are male characters here, and they play a semi-important part in the action, but they are almost window dressing to the more important aspect of it, which is, mainly, the interaction and friendship between the Barden Bellas. In fact, since the majority of the film’s male characters are members of The Treblemakers, a rival to the Bellas in the film’s main competition, the likes of Adam DeVine and Skylar Astin, the latter being the central love interest for Bella, fall into the camp of antagonist, especially DeVine’s Bumper Allen, who also gets to have a fantastic chemistry with Wilson, whose scenes together were mostly improvised by the two of them, and ended up fuelling a relationship that became a major part of the second movie.
On top of Kendrick, Snow, Camp and Wilson, we also get Alexis Knapp, Ester Dean, Shelley Ragner, Kelley Alice Jakle, and Hana Mae Lee, the latter being an absolute hoot with her quiet delivery of lines that are sometimes brilliantly troubling for their dark and humorous nature.
The thrust of the narrative is somewhat predictable, and given that the film is about a competition, and the movie Rocky is referred to, one can kind of see where it’s going, but the journey there is wonderful. The more The Bellas get knocked down, the more you want them to rise up and perform like their lives depend on it. There is an end of act two schism, before the third act sees them rise up and do the performance of their lives.
It may be obvious and a little clichéd in narrative terms, but the writing and character work is so engaging that it can’t help but take you along with it.
Like the Bellas themselves, it really doesn’t matter. You may know the songs, but it’s how you perform them that counts, and Pitch Perfect does it magnificently.