Between Glee, YouTube, and TV’s various singing competition shows, our pop culture is awash in cover songs like never before. That’s why the spectacle of a bunch of mostly white college girls covering Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” — which occurs roughly halfway through Pitch Perfect — isn’t as compellingly odd as it would’ve been just five years ago. It’s a testament to this musical that even with such a disadvantage, it’s still a total blast.
Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a freshman at a fictitious university where no one ever goes to class because they’re busy participating in the campus’ various glee clubs, which are ruled by an obnoxious, all-male, multiple national championship-winning ensemble called the Treblemakers. The sullen, crabby Beca decides to make friends by joining the Bellas, an all-female group that overachieves in the a cappella world without bass singers. There, she butts heads with Aubrey (Anna Camp), who has taken over the group as a senior and is obsessed with redeeming herself after having spectacularly blown the Bellas’ chances of winning the title the previous year. Aubrey’s now cracking the whip over her charges and having them sing a risk-averse set of songs. It’s up to Beca to shake up the group, get them in step with the last decade’s worth of music, and dethrone the Treblemakers.
The comedy alone would make this movie worth seeing. Based on Mark Rapkin’s nonfiction book about collegiate a cappella singing, Kay Cannon’s script is brimming with quotable lines. (Asshole Treblemaker to Star Wars nerd: “The smell of your weird is actually starting to affect my vocal cords!”) The Bellas — how are there no Twilight jokes in this movie? — are a fun group, with Hana Mae Lee as a chorister who can’t speak above a whisper and Rebel Wilson (once again, pilfering laughs everywhere) as an Australian girl who calls herself Fat Amy, “so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” The punchlines come from all corners, including Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as a cranky pair of TV commentators and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the hard-ass student running choir auditions. The set pieces are funny too: One senior Bella (Brittany Snow) gives Beca the full recruiting pitch in the dorm shower, blithely ignoring that they’re both naked.
Strangely, the weak link here is Kendrick. The Oscar nominee seems to be going half-speed through this thing. Maybe she mistakes sluggishness for sulkiness, or maybe the character of a dark, unfriendly Goth girl doesn’t sit well on her. She does display some easy chemistry with Skylar Astin, who portrays a non-obnoxious freshman Treblemaker who falls for Beca, but overall, her low energy levels are disappointing.
Fortunately, she’s a terrific singer who performs a straight-up version of Anna Burden’s famous YouTube video of Lulu & The Lampshades’ “Cups (You’re Gonna Miss Me),” complete with plastic-cup accompaniment. The rest of the cast is just as strong; Wilson takes lead in powerhouse style on the Bellas’ version of “Turn the Beat Around,” Kendrick and Snow harmonize nicely on David Guetta’s “Titanium,” and the aforementioned “No Diggity” is a proper roof-raiser. It’s all good enough to send you out of the theater singing. What more could you ask for?
Starring Anna Kendrick, Anna Camp, and Rebel Wilson. Directed by Jason Moore. Written by Kay Cannon, based on Mickey Rapkin’s book. Rated PG-13.