Pitch Perfect was the epitome of a sleeper hit; it was a critical success that went on to do well at the box office and has since garnered a massive cult following. I’d heard of it when it hit theaters in September of 2012, before it became as beloved as it is now, and I knew there was singing involved, of course. But overall, I went about my life at the time with little awareness or opinion of the film, that is, until I first viewed it on a plane a few months later. I’ve since seen the film a number of times, repeatedly watching it whenever I can, much like I were returning to a much-loved album, addicted and eventually being able to enthusiastically sing along.
The analogy is not much of a stretch given the film’s own obvious reliance on music. Before long, Anna Kendrick’s voice could be heard cooing from any top 100 radio station as “Cups” (her audition song within the movie) steadily became an irresistibly popular chart-topping tune to be enjoyed even by those who hadn’t seen Pitch Perfect yet. Out of context, the soundtrack in itself is infectiously well-crafted, each a cappella remix totally entertaining with or without context.
The music is probably reason number 1 why this film, albeit gradually, became the sensation it is now, with a sequel on the way this week. I think the film is somewhat flimsy, or at least formulaic premises actually enhance the experience and enjoyment of the music quite a bit, though, or at least give the music a worthy purpose. The music is what propels the plot and makes this film special, without ever becoming a totally clichéd trick in and of itself. The film has plenty of gags, to be certain, but our main characters, the Barden Bellas, take a cappella very seriously, and this makes their musical competitions matter to us: it makes us do more than nod our heads to a fun song here and there. It makes us care.
This film also has a ton of heart, and it doesn’t ever really make its characters into jokes. Take Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy, calling herself that so that the skinny girls can’t–this moment instantly gives her character a likability that transcends jokes about appearance, self-deprecating or otherwise, and turns those jokes into unpretentious empowerment that seems contagious throughout the increasingly diverse group of girls. All of her quips give her character a confident edge, a power that comes from some kind of self-awareness and a willingness to be silly. This all affirms her status as one of the funniest characters in the movie. But the obvious glue that holds the other girls together, even the cattier ones (such as Aubrey, played with hilarious conviction by Anna Camp) is Anna Kendrick as Beca. She is more than just a brooding, sarcastic, outcast archetype–she’s also quite silly herself in a subtle kind of way, and she’s ridiculously talented, too. She exhibits humility but also seems self-assured, and she brings a dry wit to the film’s otherwise over-the-top comedy. She’s the revolutionary who revitalizes the Barden Bellas just when they need it most. Plus, her chemistry with Skylar Astin’s Jesse is undeniably adorable to behold.
While it’s the characters themselves who keep me invested in the story, it’s the music that makes the investment worth it. Music is the manifestation of all the other reasons we may care about these characters. The music is not only to be enjoyed and marveled at, but it’s also what establishes relationships and raises stakes. If this were an action movie, every musical number would be a car chase or a fight scene. These are white-knuckle showdowns in the world of a cappella, a world which, for the most part, is also exciting because it is new territory to audiences.
The film is pure entertainment, bottom line. I know children and adults, men and women, who all think the film is simply a good time. With its sequel, directed by Elizabeth Banks herself, the notes of feminism throughout the now-franchise can be heard ever more sweetly, it seems. The Bellas reign victorious only after coming together, rather than continuing the cat fights or affirming the idea that women are really quite awful to fellow women. Anna Camp’s character Aubrey also forbids any relationships with the boys from the Treblemakers, who are their mega-talented rivals, for fear of the distraction that such a romance would cause. In reality, it is the destruction from within the female group that distracts from the ultimate end goal; that said, it’s admirable that a kind of no-men-necessary stance is taken, or at least attempted. All arguments that the film is still disappointingly hetero-normative aside, the female bonds that are made in the first film are alone deserving of our praise and attention, and they seem to be carried through tenfold in the sequel, which is definitely something to be excited about–not to mention all the jokes alluded to in the trailers thus far surrounding the German team in the world championships and an appearance by the Green Bay Packers.
So, whether or not Pitch Perfect 2 will end up hitting the same notes as the first film, it will be a fun, feminist romp through similar territory and will probably prove a worthy successor by simply trying to hit those high marks. With musical competitions that up the ante automatically, new cast members, and a loving fan-base that has snowballed since the first film’s opening, I have no doubt that Pitch Perfect 2 will do well. The first film’s success may have come as a surprise, but now, I can’t imagine how anyone could not love it, either as a guilty pleasure or because it simply is the fun, effective musical comedy it tries to be. Pitch Perfect is good enough to be considered more than just this, but at the very least, it is certainly never less.