Gleeful Pitch Perfect hits the high notes

Inspired by the success of hit television shows such as Glee and The X Factor comes girly-gross-out comedy Pitch Perfect.  Using GQ journalist Mickey Rapkin’s exposing account of real-life university a cappella teams, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory as the foundation, 30 Rock’s Kay Cannon has crafted a clever, catchy and feel-good comedy that will ensure that UK cinemagoers, regardless of gender, end 2012 on a high note.

The fun starts right from the specifically tailored Universal Studios fanfare that seamlessly segues into the world of collegiate a cappella competition.  Set at a fictional university in Atlanta, the Barden Bellas is an all-female a cappella troupe on the hunt for national finals a cappella glory.  Rebuilding after a disappointing close to the previous season, the troupe recruits a handful of unlikely stars, including Anna Kendrick’s reluctant, mash-up obsessed, disc jockey Beca.  The bizarre array of talent consists largely of caricatures, including Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy and Alexis Knapp’s promiscuous Stacie, but Pitch Perfect’s intent is to deliver belly laughs, rather than make a statement, so the lack of character development can be forgiven easily enough.  Faced with three other campus-based a cappella rivals, the Bellas greatest threat comes from “the rockstars of a cappella”, the Treble-Makers, led by the obnoxious Bumper (Adam DeVine, going over the top in a great way).  It would be a mistake to expect this sort of film not to have a romantic strand to it and Skylar Astin’s Jesse just happens to be there to ensure that Beca doesn’t miss out on the finer things in life, like The Breakfast Club.

Loaded with brilliant musical performances, including a “riff-off” worthy of a standing ovation, Pitch Perfect infuses sassy humour with good-natured self-depreciation.  After the nastiness of the year’s most successful comedy Ted, it’s refreshing to be able to enjoy a hilariously witty film like Pitch Perfect that doesn’t rely on needlessly cutting groups of people down.  There are some terrific running jokes and director Jason Moore, in his feature film debut, doesn’t shy away from the kind of visual humour typically reserved for manly, but immature, comedies.  His cast is well up for it, as these ladies show that they can be just as funny as any male counterpart.  Kendrick comes through in her first proper leading role, playing more of a straight-(wo)man to the goofy ensemble support.  The show is stolen by Wilson, though, as she exudes confidence in the face of her own self-mockery.  Despite having a relatively small role, Hana Mae Lee makes a lasting impression as the quietly, creepy Lilly.  On the boys’ side, Astin is adequately charming and likable, even when representing the Bellas’ arch-rivals.

However, Pitch Perfect falls short of topping 2012’s best comedy, 21 Jump Street.  A few bum notes, such as a post-competition brawl that includes a cameo “Scrubs” fans will love, leave the film more flawed than its title would suggest.  The plotting is too loose, as time quickly passes, sacrificing the natural flow of the events.  That the character of Benji (played by possible Paul Giamatti love-child Ben Platt) disappears almost entirely during the middle act, does Pitch Perfect no favours either.  The competition commentary team of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins deliver some hysterical one-liners, but their inclusion feels entirely superfluous and torn directly out of the book of Dodgeball.  Of course, there are worse problems a film could have and these infractions are relatively minor, doing no great damage to the overall enjoyment Pitch Perfect has to offer.

Despite what imperfections exist, Pitch Perfect quite successfully delights and satisfies with its sharp humour and vibrant performances.  A genuine team effort led by Kendrick’s assured lead and Wilson’s glorious boldness, it’s one of the year’s strongest comedic offerings.  Uplifting, uproarious and infectious, Pitch Perfect is a tuneful treat that shouldn’t be missed.  8.5/10 (or a solid ★★★★☆)

Pitch Perfect is in UK cinemas 21 December

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