Author’s Note: While this review will not contain any more explicit spoilers than a traditional movie review, for readers interested in going into the film with a clean slate, we discourage you from reading onward before you head to the theater.
Every now and again a special movie arrives that not only speaks to a niche community, but dares to help the niche cross the divide into the mainstream. Hugo made a mainstream audience consider a history of film long forgotten. Who watched Million Dollar Baby and didn’t find himself shadow boxing for in the shower the next morning? How many folks returned to the comic book store after a prolonged absence upon imbibing The Avengers at the theater this summer?
For the a cappella community, there’s Pitch Perfect.
Let’s get a few nitpicky things out of the way first. No, the film doesn’t adhere strictly to fact or realism (or represent much of Mickey Rapkin’s book of the same name), whether it’s the ICCA tournament structure, the process of arranging music, or many points in between. Yes, there are flights of fancy, inaccuracies, and plot contrivances a-plenty if you wish to get hung up on them, but few more and no more egregious than your average college comedy.
So does the film work? I’d argue it does for the sheer effect of capturing what’s most appealing about the collegiate a cappella community. For one, Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin’s star-crossed leads share a legitimate love of music. Both work at the college radio station with intentions of making careers behind the scenes rather than on stage, but find themselves drafted into the a cappella world based on chance acquaintances.
The other key part of a cappella that Pitch Perfect nails is the sense of belonging a person can derive from an a cappella group. In my interactions with college a cappella singers, I’ve always found it remarkable how many times I’ve heard a common sentiment: “Were it not for my a cappella group, I might not have stuck it out at [insert college or university name here].” True to form, a cappella is more than an extracurricular for the college kids in the film. It’s a way of life.
The parts of the film most likely to draw the ire of a cappella veterans are probably those which in which singers ad lib inspired arrangements of songs. Sure, it’s not realistic, but these scenes do a remarkable job of both letting the music wow audiences by speaking for itself, and, perhaps more importantly, capturing the feel of a truly electric a cappella performance. The audience rarely sees the best mashups coming, and something as simple as stomp-clap percussion can elevate a performance exponentially. In seeing the music evolve organically on screen, and the performers just as surprised and pleased as we are, we get to share in some of the joy of making music with friends without enduring the hardship of hours on a keyboard actually arranging a song. Think of it as a more elegant answer to the 80s gettin’-stuff-done montage.
From there, so many of the pieces of the film simply fall into place. On screen, we get to enjoy the sheer likeability of Kendrick and Astin, perfect priss from Brittany Snow, and stellar comedic turns from Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVineto. Kay Ryan did a fine job of dramatizing the competitive collegiate a cappella experience, making a niche topic not only accessible but actively fun. And then, we can’t forget about the film’s truest stars—a team of behind-the-scenes aca-gurus including Ed Boyer, Ben Bram, and Deke Sharon who did the genre proud by arranging and directing some truly outstanding a cappella to share with the world.
A cappella performers, technicians, and fans, don’t hesitate to catch Pitch Perfect in the theater. And don’t forget to bring a friend. It’s about time we share a slice of a cappella with the world.