Tuesday 19 December 2017

From the archive: "Pitch Perfect"

One of the judges of a collegiate acapella competition is addressing an auditorium-ful of auditionees, and laying down some hard truths. “If you think you can sing and dance your way through any issue, or your confused sexuality, think again. That’s high school. This is real life.” Well, kind of. In fact, Pitch Perfect offers but a minor tweak to a pre-existing formula: this is Glee gone to college, set amongst the misfits and outcasts of a fictional university, and charting the effect tattooed, pierced DJ Beca (Anna Kendrick) has on the uptight Barden Belles, an all-female vocal troupe so out of time and tunes their idea of a showstopper is Ace of Base’s “The Sign”. (If that reference means nothing to you, you’re probably not the target audience.) The enduring gag in Jason Moore’s likably daffy comedy is that everyone within this nerdy, bitchy yet essentially good-hearted community truly believes they’re the coolest, sexiest thing ever to have set foot on a stage; this even when the Belles’ all-male rivals the Treblemakers break into a rendition of Toni Basil’s deathless “Mickey”, and get into a post-competition smackdown with a cardigan-clad choir of oldtimers featuring Har Mar Superstar and Turk from TV’s Scrubs.

From his time working on Broadway sensation Avenue Q, Moore clearly knows how to put on a show, and he has very nearly as much raucous fun with the musical numbers as 2007’s fondly remembered Blades of Glory did with its ice-skating routines. These performers are fitted with sock puppets and gastrointestinal issues and ushered forth into the spotlight, only to be skewered by the merciless, post-Cowell commentary team of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (“That was like an elephant dart to the public’s face”). Superior performances allow us to care about this ensemble of cartoonish kooks and loons. There’s further proof, after Up in the Air, of Kendrick’s uncommonly good timing, and of the added comic value the Australian actress Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids, A Few Best Men) is capable of bringing to even the most unprepossessing of projects.

It’s true certain elements come as standard. Beca finds herself caught up in a half-hearted love triangle at the campus radio station involving her buff boss (Freddie Stroma) and a joshing, movie-obsessed colleague (Skylar Astin); in a nod to the John Hughes movies that serve as the film’s background noise, she’s also at the mercy of a hard-assed professor father (John Benjamin Hickey) who totes doesn’t understand her. Yet screenwriter Kay Cannon (30 Rock) is rightly less interested in these generic plot-props than in the bubblegum business of passing “Aguilerian” into circulation as a viable adjective, and making a case for the existence of Sisqo beyond “The Thong Song”. No-one’s singing anything out of the ordinary: this lot probably haven’t heard of Journey, and prefer Flo Rida to Scott Walker. Yet any film that seeks to mash up Azealia Banks’ “212” with Young MC’s “Bust a Move” – that has the attitude, but still wants to party – is all right with me.

(MovieMail, December 2012)

Pitch Perfect is available on DVD through Universal Pictures UK; a third film in the series, Pitch Perfect 3, opens in cinemas nationwide this Friday.

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