Directed by Jason Moore
Screenplay by Kay Cannon from the book by Mickey Rapkin
Rated M, 112 minutes
Showing at cinemas everywhere
Pitch Perfect gets its gross-out moment over early. It comes in the opening sequence. The college's a cappella group, the Bellas, have just finished their set when their prim and very proper leader, Aubrey (Anna Camp), suffers an attack of nerves and throws up onstage.
Pitch Perfect trailer
Beca, a freshman at Barden University, is cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school's all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus a capella competition.
Things can only improve - and they do. With its obligatory bodily fluids joke out of the way, the film settles down to deliver a relatively fresh take on a favourite coming-of-age theme: how to survive the American education system without killing yourself.
This question is usually tackled from the point of view of a self-confessed misfit - a boy who isn't consumed by a desire to be a football star or a girl who isn't obsessed by a desire to date the football star. Such points of difference make these young individualists fair game for the mean girls and bone-headed jocks who form the bulk of the college population according to the movies. The only way they can rise above the scrum is to succeed at something, whether it's chess, debating, rap dancing or talking back to the teacher. Even for these non-joiners, the need to compete is inescapable. And so to a cappella or "organised nerd singing", as one aspiring practitioner describes it.
The story is drawn very loosely from a book by Mickey Rapkin, a journalist from HQ who spent months following three university teams as they prepared for the national a cappella championships. The book was picked up by Elizabeth Banks, the accomplished comic actress and Judd Apatow regular, and Banks's husband and fellow producer, Max Handelman. Banks has a sparring role in the film with John Michael Higgins, who shares the a cappella championships commentary box with her during the opening and closing scenes, and it's a wonderfully deadpan performance.
The film is directed by Jason Moore, who's piloted several Broadway musicals to success, and Australian scene-stealer Rebel Wilson plays one of the a cappella girls. We're told she initially auditioned for the part with an American accent but Moore and his team had her revert to her Australian monotone. Wise move. It goes perfectly with her unflappable air. She affably introduces herself to the other girls in the group as Fat Amy "so that twig bitches like you don't do it behind my back". As for her musical talents, she tells them she's Tasmania's best singer. If they've never heard of the place, that's their problem.
Up in the Air's Anna Kendrick plays the lead, Beca, a pop music obsessive who's not really interested in a college education. She just wants to go to Los Angeles and pursue a career there. She spends all her time with her sound system, mixing tracks and creating her own arrangements. But her father, a professor at the college, makes a deal with her. If she'll give college a try and still hates it at the end of the year, he'll finance her move to LA. And so she's persuaded to join the Bellas, who have been desperately in need of new singers since Aubrey's mishap at the championships.
The other members of the group and their male rivals, the Treblemakers, are not nearly as funny as Fat Amy, who must have come up with most of her own lines, judging from the uninhibitedness of her particular brand of political incorrectness. The script loads up most of her fellow singers with so many idiosyncrasies they come across as sketch comedy material rather than endearing oddballs. The only exceptions are Brittany Snow (Hairspray), who breathes some real ditziness into the role of Aubrey's over-eager offsider, and Adam DeVine as the unbearably bumptious Bumper, the Treblemakers' lead singer.
Kendrick is a bit too cool for school and her romance with Jesse (Skylar Astin), a mild-mannered member of the Treblemakers, never really fires. The same goes for the music, which is tuneful without generating much excitement. It's Wilson's film.