Release Date: September 28, 2012 in select cities; October 5 wide.
Rating: PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references
Run Time: 112 min
Director: Jason Moore
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Skylar Astin, Anna Camp, Ben Platt
Singing and dancing competition shows have been pop culture staples for a over decade now and have spawned fictionalized variations as well (Glee and Step Up, most notably). I’ve never been a fan of any of them. Not even remotely. I don’t mean to be a hater but, well, they actually kind of annoy me.
Suffice it to say, I am in no way the target demographic for the new a capella teen comedy Pitch Perfect, which is essentially Glee: The College Years. But I’m not stupid, either. I know a sleeper hit when I see one, and Pitch Perfect is going to be a word-of-mouth sensation.
A movie built to succeed in the social media age, Pitch Perfect is the kind of crowd-pleaser that will inspire repeat viewings, girls' nights out, and go-to comfort watching on DVD. I’ve heard this level of laughter from preview audiences before (though never more so), but I can’t remember any time I’ve heard this much applause throughout. Audiences are going to eat this up, and those who love it will looooooooooove it. Their gushing OMGosh hyperbole will know no end.
There seems to be something ingeniously calculating (and I mean that as a compliment) about Pitch Perfect. It draws inspiration from the aforementioned song-related shows as well as cruel teen satires like Mean Girls, yet somehow ends up being the best of all those inspirations while dispensing with the more bitter and melodramatic excesses.
Sure, Pitch Perfect has an occasionally crude edge to go with its share of drama but it never feels mean-spirited. It avoids pretense, and is even a bit self-effacing. While by no means family-friendly, it’s certainly distinct in being the rare contemporary teen comedy that pushes PG-13 boundaries rather than the all-out gratuituous raunch of R-rated ones. It has sex-related slang, dialogue and humor but is not sex-obsessed, and the gross-outs are mostly limited to a few moments of projectile vomiting (and even those serve a plot purpose).
The setup is straightforward: the fictional Barden University is the "It" campus for vocalists, boasting not one but two of the national finalist a cappella groups (along with other aspiring ones): the all-female Barden Bellas and the all-male reigning champs The Treblemakers. At Barden, the Glee Club nerds are the cool kids, not the jocks.
Beca (Anna Kendrick, The Twilight Saga) is a surly freshman who’d rather be DJ-ing out in Hollywood but is reluctantly taking advantage of the free ride provided by her Barden professor father. In an attempt to give college a chance, Beca agrees to join the Barden Bellas in their quest for redemption at the A Capella Nationals.
The Bellas are a typical hodgepodge of character types. There’s the Type-A control freak perfectionist leader, the all-American pretty girl, the sexpot, the African-American (also lesbian), an Asian who can barely be heard (while saying comically-disturbing things), and Beca’s jaded hipsterism. There’s also the comic relief fat girl (a scene-stealing Rebel Wilson, Bachelorette), but her self-ascribed nickname "Fat Amy" defines a nature that confidently owns who she is, as does the charm of her no-nonsense wit.
The Treblemakers are much more cohesive and less distinct individually, despite their racial diversity, and that unity makes them an even more formidable foe for the Bellas. The code of conduct that Bella members pledge to forbids any romantic involvment with Treblemakers – which obviously means a love story will come from that constraint. Still, the inevitable pursuit of Beca by the Treblemakers' most cute and grounded member Jesse (Skylar Astin) is played with genuine affection and emotional tension rather than contrived complications.
The plot never strays from formula: the motley crew of girls forges together despite their differences, comes close to success, hits a low point, is challenged, fights, breaks apart, then comes back together to rise again. All of the familiar story beats are there but done with a deft balance of outrageous fun and heartfelt sincerity (especially with the Beca/Jesse romance; Kendrick and Astin have an easy yet palpable chemistry).
Veteran TV director Jason Moore is clearly going for something akin to the John Hughes classics of old (an ongoing Breakfast Club reference blatantly says as much, especially as it plays an integral emotional role in the climax that really pays off). Moore largely succeeds on tone but his characters and their conflicts don’t have the depth that made Hughes's best films such relatable touchstones for a generation – but that’s a small and inconsequential quibble.
For all the snark and attitude, Pitch Perfect never feels nasty or as if the filmmakers have some vicarious axe to grind with the "too cool" kids from their past. It’s content enough, for example, to provide a feel-good payoff without needing a requisite embarrassing comeuppance for the jerks. It also doesn’t indulge any PC compulsions to make pro-gay or anti-bullying statements, themes that (regardless how you feel about them) can often bog down similar shows of this type. The only agenda here is to make audiences feel great.
Pitch Perfect accomplishes that harder-than-it-sounds goal by being so finely tuned that it will leave audiences not only laughing, singing and literally cheering, but with their hearts full and their spirits euphoric.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: There is a party at the college where everyone is drinking beer; some are comically intoxicated. Brief references to drugs and tobacco.
- Language/Profanity: Five uses of the B-word, four uses of the A-word, five uses of the S-word, the Lord’s name is taken in vain twice, the middle finger is used once. Sexual and vulgar slang is used: two instances of the D-word for penis, two references to testicles, B-word slang for an erection, D-word for feminine hygeine product, one use of the T-word for breasts, and the word “penetrate” is used in a sexual context.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: (All characters are college-age) Occasional sexually suggestive dance moves, including gestures to private parts. One girl occasionally caresses her body in a sexual nature as she dances. One character is a lesbian; she cops a feel on one girl, intended for comedy. Two girls stand in a shower together, naked, but seen from the shoulders up and only talk; it’s intended to be awkward, nothing sexual in nature. Under another shower stall, a pair of male feet and female feet are seen together. One girl openly states that she likes to have sex and sleep around. Some outfits suggestively feature breasts. A young woman’s extra-large nipples are seen through a thin t-shirt (for gross effect).
- Violence/Other: Girls fight on a couple of occasions, but staged comicly as "cat fights." Two instances of excessive projectile vomiting. One girl falls down into a big puddle of vomit.
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