Since I haven't seen one episode of Glee, I don't know how much the new a cappella movie Pitch Perfect toys with the expectations of those who are familiar with that love-it-or-hate-it show.
Set in one of those movie college campuses where the arts are more important than sports, Pitch Perfect has Anna Kendrick as Beca, an incoming freshman and aspiring music producer (we know this because she spends most of her time making mash-ups on her computer) who reluctantly gets roped into joining the university's fledgling female a cappella team, the Barden Bellas. Led by authoritative blonde Aubrey (Anna Camp) and supportive redhead Chloe (Brittany Snow), they're trying to rebuild the team after an unfortunate, YouTube-worthy performance where a stressed-out Aubrey lost her lunch during their rendition of Ace of Base's "The Sign."
In classic movie-underdog fashion, they corral of ragtag team of gals, a collection of the usual quirky types that includes a boobalicious nympho (Alexis Knapp), a black girl who may be a lesbian (hit songwriter Ester Dean) and a weird Asian who talks really low (Hana Mae Lee). They also recruit an outspoken fat girl (Rebel Wilson), who refers to herself as "Fat Amy" just so she can beat all those skinny bitches to the punch.
As they attempt to become a cohesive singing/ dancing unit, tensions immediately flare up between Aubrey and Beca, who thinks it would be a good idea to perform songs from this century. Aubrey also doesn't like Beca getting all flirty with fellow aspiring music maker Jesse (Skylar Astin), who's the newest member of the Treblemakers, the Bellas' rivals on campus.
Loosely adapted from Mickey Rapkin's book of the same name, Pitch Perfect does sound like Bring It On with high notes. But it also wants to be this year's Bridesmaids. Just like that movie, it has bodily fluid-drenched, gross-out humor and a rivalry between the scrappy heroine (it's almost like Kendrick is letting Tina Fey know through her performance she's available to play her younger sister in anything) and her control freak antagonist. Even Bridesmaids cast member Wilson, who serves as this movie's Melissa McCarthy, wins over audiences with her uproarious candidness and refreshing confidence.
With Broadway musical director Jason Moore (Avenue Q, Shrek the Musical) behind the lens, Pitch Perfect is full of annoyingly chipper musical numbers that I'd hate if it weren't for the fact that they're so damn rousing. (Pitch Perfect is probably going to be the only movie in existence that actually makes you believe someone like Kendrick knows all the words to Blackstreet's "No Diggity.") But thanks to a playful script from 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, Pitch Perfect exhibits a spirited, enjoyable self-awareness that refuses to be overtaken by heavy-handedness, something that I hear Glee revels in.
There are times when I felt there were scenes cut out that might explain some characters and their motives, like why Camp's character sings the same damn songs while every team around the Bellas live to be fresh and new (Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Guest regular John Michael Higgins, appearing as competition commentators à la Best in Show, hilariously remind us of this). But considering how much fun this Pitch Perfect has just by being, well, fun, the flaws are forgivable. The movie almost makes me consider watching an episode of Glee—almost.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Sing it on."