October 6, 2012 -- The impression I got from early reviews was that this movie was going to be a lot funnier than it turned out to be. But it turns out to be loaded with fat jokes, nerd jokes, projectile vomiting jokes and sex jokes which are well suited to the task of humiliating certain characters in the film, but not well-suited to getting laughs from an audience, at least an audience with heart. What it lacks in genuine comedy, however, it more than makes up for with songs sung in beautiful, tight harmonies.
This is a film which uses the language of sports competition applied to national intercollegiate a capella singing competition. This is sort of like barbershop quartets with dance moves and more singers. Think of the cheerleading competitions in “Bring it On” and the choir singing competition in “Joyful Noise,” released earlier this year. This is a well-worn story idea, which is often coupled, as it is in this film, with romantic comedy.
The story starts with a very reluctant college student, Beca (played by Anna Kendrick of “Up in the Air”) who wants to move to California immediately and become a music producer. She is roped into joining an all-female a capella club on campus, the Bellas, led by the dictatorial leader, Aubrey (Anna Camp of “The Help”). The Bellas are run like some kind of cult, with a lot of unreasonable rules (like who the members can and can't hook up with).
The major competition for the Bellas is another a capella group on the same campus, the Treblemakers, led by an equally insufferable little twit named Bumper (Adam DeVine of the “Workaholics” TV series). Now, you would think Bumper would be focused on singing ability when choosing members of his group, but instead he rejects a great singer, Benji (Ben Platt) because he is not ordinary enough to fit into the group's social dynamics.
One of the off-putting aspects of this movie is how poorly the characters treat each other. Beca's roommate, Kimmy Jin (Jinhee Joung) is rude to her and Beca is rude to her would-be boyfriend, Jesse (Skylar Astin of “Taking Woodstock”). Beca is also rude to her own father and Aubrey is rude to everybody.
With all this rude, nasty, selfish behavior, it easy for a nice character, fun-loving Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson of “Bridesmaids”) to steal every scene she's in, and she didn't need the help. She is also a great singer and dancer. She practically rescues the film (and some of the songs) on her own with her talent, panache and self-confidence. She reminds me a lot of the irrepressible Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” or Nikki Blonsky in “Hairspray.” Another nice character, in fact, the most normal character in the movie, is Jesse, who tries very hard to romance Beca, but is rebuffed so often he finally gives up on her.
It is pretty obvious where all this is going, and it finally gets there at long last. At times however, it seems like it is going to take forever for the film to finally get to the inevitable plot points it has been heading towards for nearly two hours. This is, essentially, a 90 minute film packed into 112 minutes. The musical numbers are slick, the choreography is well-rehearsed and the vocals have studio-quality polish. These are the kind of quality production numbers you expect in a musical. This film rates a C+.
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