Theoretically, the Bring It On model can be applied to any remotely performative art. All it takes is a certain level of sass, some eye-catching performance showcases, and a plot where a talented outsider livens up a moribund group with some fresh ideas. Pitch Perfect slaps that stencil onto college a cappella singing groups, with a smattering of success. The movie is far too aware of its influences, especially when it imitates Bring It On’s silly “cheerocracy”-style slang with its own overextended series of aca-neologisms. (“Aca-scuse me?” is possibly understandable, but “aca-awesome”? Really?) But while it’s essentially a pile of familiar tropes arranged in a slightly new order, it gets the basics right enough to be functional.
Anna Kendrick stars as a college freshman who doesn’t want to be in college; obsessed with creating mash-ups, she wants to run off to L.A. and become a DJ. But her college-professor father won’t support her dreams, so she sulks her way through her freshman year until she gets pulled into an all-female a cappella group run by good-hearted-but-bland Brittany Snow and tense control freak Anna Camp, who are facing their last chance to win a collegiate a cappella competition before graduation. (Both Camp and Snow look more like corporate-politics-hardened CEOs than college seniors, but that’s beside the point.) For some reason, Camp wants to stick with cooed, sugar-sweet arrangements of songs like “Eternal Flame,” while Kendrick thinks they’d have a better chance with mash-ups featuring more current music and more dynamic mixing. Also complicating the not particularly complicated plot: a rivalry with their college’s all-male, championship-winning a cappella group The Treblemakers (led by Workaholics’ Adam DeVine), and Kendrick’s forbidden maybe-attraction to Treblemaker Skylar Astin.
Like sports movies, dance movies, and other singing movies (the recent Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton vehicle Joyful Noise comes to mind), Pitch Perfect largely relies on the audience’s existing enthusiasm for the genre, and its assumed willingness to put up with some cardboard characters and stiff plotting if the money sequences deliver. Pitch Perfect stacks the deck with humor from Rebel Wilson as an amiable, spacey a cappella diva who calls herself Fat Amy (“So twiggy bitches like you don’t do it behind my back”), and Christopher Guest-style dry comedy interactions from a cappella commentators John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks. They’re pulling hard to compensate for Kendrick’s character; teenagers may love and relate to the way she reacts to absolutely everything with a curled lip and mildly horrified, disdainful disbelief, but for older audiences, she’s a bit of a self-absorbed pill. Still most people will probably be able to tell whether they’d enjoy Pitch Perfect by deciding whether they can conceive of enjoying a pretty, energetically delivered, vocally complicated a cappella medley of sex songs, including “S&M,” “Let’s Talk About Sex,” and “No Diggity.” Those who react to the prospect with a Kendrick-esque curled lip should steer clear.