Movie musicals fall into a couple of categories. You have your full-on adaptations of operas or existing musicals, like the upcoming Les Miz, which proudly boasts that its songs were recorded live on the set rather than the traditional method of recording first then lip synching.
Then there are the mixed genre musicals that incorporate music and songs into a fictional narrative. These types of films are like a double-edged dagger; they either have great music and a great story or great music combined with a weak script. A prime example of the former would be the original 1980 Fame. The new kid on the block Pitch Perfect actually reminded me of a combo of Fame and Bring It On with its A Capella competition mixed with its sisterhood bonding in college storyline. There may also be a pinch of Superbad considering scenes like one where one of the girls does a snow angel in vomit.
Pitch Perfect stars Anna Kendrick who totally owns the screen with her performance of a college freshman who really wants to go to L.A. and become a record producer. Her acting chops are the equal to her vocal chops, reminding us of her first film, also a cutesy musical called Camp. Kendrick gets inducted into a female A Capella group whose function on the college campus resembles a sorority or fraternity. They train hard, party hard and only date guys in the men A Capella groups at the risk of banishment.
Producer Elizabeth Banks, who also plays a small part of a contest commentator not unlike the part she warbles in Hunger Games, obviously has shepherded this project with great care, finding a rich comic vein for the storyline while also paying tribute to the titular book it’s based on, itself a serious examination of competitive collegiate A Capella groups. The music numbers soar. I personally was unfamiliar with most of the songs performed with the exception of “Don’t You Forget About Me,” originally recorded by Simple Minds for the movie Breakfast Club. One reason I was unfamiliar with a lot of the songs was that they were conceived as American Idol tripe hits. But what’s heard in Pitch Perfect is the best version of this or that particular song that you’ll ever hear.
– Michael Bergeron