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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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"Pitch Perfect" is in theaters now.
"Pitch Perfect" is in theaters now.

"Pitch Perfect" strikes a surprisingly funny chord

Considering "Glee"'s heyday is long over and "mashup" is well on its way to becoming the latest banned word, unleashing a movie about an underdog group of a cappella singers onto theaters doesn't really seem like a banner idea. But, "Pitch Perfect" won me over with the power of song. Kidding. Seriously though, this movie is smart, darkly funny and even a little edgy. It's not quite the anti-"Glee," but it does have the "badass older sister" bit down.

"Pitch Perfect" starts off typically, with Barden University freshman Beca (Anna Kendrick) reluctantly thrown into the college experience by her father. Despite her literal "too cool for school" attitude, she gets coerced into joining the school's all-girls a cappella group, The Bellas, in an attempt to revitalize the singers in time to take on the school's all-male rival group, the Treble Makers.

Riveting stuff, I know. But, what makes the movie is its writing and cast. "Pitch Perfect" thankfully knows its beating a dead premise – it even writes in a wink-and-nod that acknowledges as much – so it has no problem letting loose with a collection of impressively oddball characters. 

Although the plot is driven by Beca, The Bellas' chief seniors Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp) and Beca's lovestruck friend and Treble Maker member Jesse (Skylar Astin), the real entertainment is driven by the third-stringers that make up the girls' singing team. The main comedy queen is Rebel Wilson, who's hysterical as the mouthy, self-named Fat Amy ("So twig b*tches like you don't do it behind my back."), but a close second is Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), the unassuming, near-inaudible sociopath/pyromaniac.

Both characters are great, and their one-liners are even better. In fact, plenty of what's so funny about "Pitch Perfect" is just in the writing itself. It plays out with a clear-cut plot and consistent laughs driven by the entire ensemble.

Additional performances by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins as the awkward competition commentators offer up an extra touch of Rob Reiner-style satire, but that's just the icing on the comedy cake. 

"Pitch Perfect" is not completely smooth sailing. Some of its side character development spills over onto some unimportant background players (the radio DJ at Beca's internship, for one), but mostly it balances safely between being too cliche and trying too desperately to improve upon an unfixable procedural. It picked a tired tune, but thanks to its solid performers and a unique arrangement, "Pitch Perfect" made itself into a pretty sweet piece of work.

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