Musicals, all of them, benefit a lot from their music. Not just because it wouldn’t be much of a genre without music. Song lends them an emotional shortcut: Instead of all that patient careful build-up, you just get a couple of big swelling numbers to do the heavy lifting for you. Pitch Perfect is very dependent on these kinds of shortcuts. If you took all its music out, it might be a pretty unremarkable movie. But there’s a ton of a music in it. So it’s not!
(Sidenote: The ultimate movie-musical-that-seems-great-at-first-because-of-its-music-but-later-you-realise-it’s-total-crap? Rent. The Chris Columbus version. First time I saw that I was like “THIS IS AMAZING,” but later after I listened the shit out of the soundtrack and re-watched it I was like… this.)
Actually Pitch Perfect wouldn’t be that unremarkable because it has Anna Kendrick in it and Anna Kendrick is pretty terrific. (If you’re not convinced of her terrific-ness, please please watch her sing “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” when she was like seven. LIKE WOW.) She plays Beca, this character who is kind of a butt except for the fact she’s played by Anna Kendrick. Beca is “alternative” because she wears earrings and eyeshadow and hates everyone for no reason and she super wants to be a DJ in Los Angeles, except her dad is forcing her to go to an awesome college for free to get a sweet education for free. Oh he’s a monster.
To fill the time between boring college and DJ superstardom (worth adding, to underscore how cruelly unreasonable Beca’s father is: He makes this deal with her where she only has to go to college for a single year and then he’ll bankroll her move to LA. Boy is he just awful), Beca sulkily joins an all-girl a capella group called The Bellas. Their leader is this uptight snot called Aubrey (Anna Camp, very pretty but too old to play college), who butts heads with Beca because they have different musical visions and can they resolve them before the big singing championship in New York and if this is all sounding a lot like an extended episode of Glee that is an astute observation because this is basically Glee: The Movie and they even go to Regionals.
Not, I rush to add, that comparisons to Glee are a bad thing. Yes, in 2012 Glee is pretty much a pop-culture punchline, but back when Glee was good it was really good, and Pitch Perfect shares a lot of those really good elements. Its characters are arch, its LOLs sharp and many (thank screenwriter Kay Cannon, who cut her teeth on 30 Rock, for those), and its soundtrack really is great. If the mark of a good musical is that it makes you want to start singing, Pitch Perfect is a good musical.
Those musical numbers and the witty one-liners really do a good job at disguising the fact there’s not much to the story. This is a very standard teen movie arc: Beca goes to college, meets a cute boy – Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the rival all-boy a capella group the Treble Makers – faces some obstacles, alienates cute boy via contrived drama, then overcomes obstacles and pashes cute boy. (Spoiler alert, I guess, if you’re an idiot who’s never seen a movie before.) There’s some trying-a-bit-too-hard-to-be-meta references to teen classics like The Breakfast Club, but mostly they just serve as reminders about how formulaic Pitch Perfect is.
It doesn’t really matter it’s formulaic, though, when the formula is so much fun and sold so well. Especially by Rebel Wilson, who is doing her usual Rebel Wilson schtick playing “Fat Amy” (if you want to see Rebel Wilson not doing Rebel Wilson, see Bachelorette: it’s good) but doing it with every bit of energy she has. When I say she dominates every scene she’s in, it is absolutely literally seriously-I mean-this not intended as a lame fat joke. She’s rad. And she deserves all her Hollywood fame and Zac Efron kisses.
(Also: If you’re wondering what Freddie Stroma‘s been doing since he played Hot Blond Kinda Douchey Guy in Harry Potter 6, he’s now playing Super Hot Blond Kinda Douchey Guy in Pitch Perfect. So now you know!)