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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Pitch Perfect



U.S.: Jason Moore, 2012

In the mood for ateen-oriented movie musical comedy about college boys and girls’ A cappella groups? Want to watch (and hear) a bunch of enthusiastic unaccompanied singers slugging it out in something called the ICCA (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella), with unaccompanied (sort of)  renditions of songs like Whip It, Turn the Beat Around, Like a Virgin, and We Came to Smash in a Black Tuxedo?

Want to watch (and hear) a movie where star Anna Kendrick does a Psycho shower scene parody, while playing a tattooed, ear-pierced  mash-up Freshman queen named Beca who joins  a failing A cappella group called the Bellas and is pursued by a persistent Freshman boy singer called Jesse (Skylar Astin) — a sweetheart of a guy who thinks the world’s most moving movie (and one of the five best-scored) is The Breakfast Club?  Have you been waiting around and hoping for something like this? I didn’t think so. Serious little devil, aren’t you?

Well, as Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy might say, never  judge a book or a movie (or a song) by its cover, even if  the book is a boxed encyclopedia. Defying all seemingly reasonable expectations, Pitch Perfect (whose title is one of the most overused descriptions in movie criticism) turns out to be a cute, smart, funny show, well-directed (by Jason Moore), well-acted (by Kendrick, Wilson and a cast of dozens, well-sung (there are lots of songs and they’re usually fun) and (this is a shock) well-written. Pitch Perfect is full of clichés of course. But it also has a lot of surprisingly sharp wisecracks and snappy dialogue — courtesy of 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, and maybe of actresses like Wilson, riffing.

If you skip Pitch Perfect — and it sometimes deserves to be skipped — you‘ll be missing all the bouncy A cappella scenes, which even survive a projectile vomit gag or two. And you’ll miss the scene with Toni Basil‘s Mickey and Madonna‘s Like a Virgin, and all of Wilson’s one-liners, including the already immortal zinger  where Fat Amy says she invented the nickname herself  so “twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” You’ll miss Fat Amy herself, one of raunchiest, most amusing characters in any recent movie, played by an actress who sometimes has three times more presence than anyone else on screen.

You‘ll miss the smart-ass contest commentary delivered (to what and to whom?) by chatty announcers John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks (who also co-produced the movie). And you‘ll miss the scene — a heart render really — where Anna Kendrick’s character Beca watches (on the computer) Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club pumping his fist to the Simple Minds song “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and she can’t  hold back the tears. Finally, you’ll miss all the aca-jokes, where Amy and others take the prefix “aca” (from A cappella) and stick it into every other word or phrase they can — like “aca-mazing” and “aca-stonishing” and “aca-mon, give me a break.“

In short, you’ll miss the spiffiest teen movie of its kind since, I don’t know, maybe Step Up — which wasn’t all that nifty. Well, maybe  The Breakfast Club, if it had A capella scenes.

The movie is based not on what you’d expect — a few nights’ worth of old DVDs  — but on the non-fiction book “Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory,” by Mickey Rapkin, which gives the actual lowdown on these kinds of contests. (Probably, Rapkin’s book should have been made into a concert documentary too.) So even though this show is corny and predictable, it speaks (and sings) with some authority, even when the bozos played by Higgins and Banks are doing the aca-commentary.

The story is simple and unoriginal and could have been really bad. Cool little Beca (played very coolly by Kendrick) wants to go away to college. But her professor dad, Dr. Mitchell (John Benjamin Hickey), wants her to go to his school, Barden, for at least a year, and he wants her to participate in Barden school activities (or ac-activities), which will eventually include the Bellas. Said Bellas, led by tight ac-assed boss Bella Aubrey (Anna Camp) and fervent Chloe (Brittany Snow)  are trying to recover from a disgraceful ac-ICCA competition, which was climaxed by  that projectile-vomiting,  and they’re recruiting new talent, which includes both Beca and Fat Amy.

There’s also a nasty, over-competitive boys group called The Treblemakers, creating disharmony, led by the obnoxious Bumper (Adam Devine), but also including persistent nice guy and Breakfast Club lover Jesse. The girls sing and have spats. The bad boys sing and sneer. The girls find themselves. The contest is on. In a stunning surprise, the ICCA competition is won by…..


The Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” (No, just kidding.)


Well, we don’t go to these movies for the stories, do we? Anyway, Pitch Perfect made me laugh and I liked Kendrick (again) and I liked the music, and that, after all,  has been the fundamental appeal of most teen-oriented movie musicals since Babes in Arms — except that nobody here is as good as Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney. (That‘s okay: Nobody in Babes in Arms, not even Rooney, is funnier than Rebel Wilson.)


Jason Moore, who directed Broadway’s Avenue Q, keeps things zipping along. Writer Cannon (or should se say writer Aca-Cannon) keeps the badinage popping. The choreography, by (no comment) Aakomon “A.J.“ Jones, is nifty, as is the music by Christophe Beck and Mark Kilian. The only objections I have to the singing or the song selection (which includes Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.“ and Ace of Base‘s “The Sign“) are that they used Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and not Billy Joel’s — and also that  they completely ignored that semi-A cappella masterpiece “Runaround Sue” by Dion. (“Hurt! Hurt!…Well, I shoulda known it from the very start. This girl will leave me with a broken heart. So if you don’t want to cry like I do, Keep away from Runaround Sue.” )

How can you pass up a chance like that? Anyway, the show is entertaining. The cast is delightful, a lot of the time. Anna Kendrick…well, she’s a sugarplum, tattooed or not, in or out of the shower. As for Rebel Wilson, she‘s a sugar-cantaloupe, an encyclopedia of wit and wildness. This woman deserves an Aca-cademy Award for sass.  The other actresses are good, and Kendrick is terrific. But Wilson as Fat Amy: She’s Bitch Perfect.

Now, let’s all watch The Breakfast Club.

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So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon