The biggest challenge facing Beca (Anna Kendrick) is that she’s the most rebellious member of her all-girl competitive college a cappella group.
The biggest challenge facing viewers 35 and over of Pitch Perfect, the smartly executed new musical comedy, is accepting that a movie about competitive college a cappella singing could even exist – let alone be good.
But if that’s your way of thinking, you haven’t been paying attention.
While you were listening to rock or hip hop or watching HBO or AMC, many of your kids were grooving to Glee, American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, marking a dramatic shift in intergenerational cultural tastes.
Old-school showbiz shtick has made a huge comeback. It’s suddenly cool to do the kind of thing that once drove kids into the electric arms of amplified feedback: Get up on stage and make like Mickey Rooney.
In this sense, Pitch Perfect is pure, processed 21st-century schmaltz, a let’s-put-on-a-show story so steeped in backlot Hollywood convention it almost embarrasses itself, with the difference being it really doesn’t care.
If you’ve got a problem with what the kids on campus are doing for fun, you’re probably as lamely out of touch as Beca’s fortysomething single professor dad, who just wishes she would give up her fantasy of a musical career and make the most of her free college tuition. (That Beca really wants to be a deejay is a major issue: If the girl toted a guitar instead of a turntable around, I’m guessing Poppa wouldn’t preach so much.)
So here you are: It’s the first day of school at Barden U, and the reluctant alt-minded Beca is asked to join the ailing Barden Bellas, one of the institution’s many competitive a capella groups, but also the one with the most debilitating handicaps.
First of all, it’s all-girl – and apart from being a form of music that hasn’t thrived since the Moonglows were still charting, a cappella is apparently also a largely male domain. (Yes, folks, yet another instance of seismic cultural redistribution: a cappella is macho.)
Secondly, the Barden Bellas are non-negotiably presided over by Aubrey (Anna Camp), a bitchy blond traditionalist who not only insists the Bellas dress like air hostesses on stage and do endlessly listless reprises of Turn the Beat Around, she has the poor public relations habit of projectile vomiting over the first three rows when nerves get the better of her.
From the beginning, it’s clear what the Bellas need in order to unseat the arrogant Bardem boy-band trophy holders the Treble Makers: Beca and her pierced-ear, mix-tape sensibility (did I mention that she can sing like hell?). It’s also clear that this won’t happen until the end, after we’ve been suitably set up to get maximum emotional release from the big night, everything’s-at-stake, whole-world-is-watching show-stopper.
In the meantime, Beca must be courted by a boy (Skylar Astin, a Breakfast Club-loving, conspicuously sensitive Treble Maker), reject him, woo him back, and prove to the autocratic Aubrey that it’s okay to ditch the stewardess drag and let it rip with a nasty mashup once in a while.
Pitch Perfect pitches itself between Bridesmaids and Glee, which is to say it celebrates the low-down raunchiness of girls being girls among girls, while delivering a snap-crackle-and-pop music catharsis. Yes, folks, rock is dead, but long live showbiz.