Musicals have been incorporated into film since the late 1920’s and boomed for the next forty years until viewership waned in the mid 1970’s. Then, at the turn of the Millennium, a new block of hit musical film spectacles took place, starting with the unlikely and rather out of nowhere achievement of Moulin Rouge (2001), which paved the way for big hits Chicago (2002), and Rent (2005). This new wave brought innovative artistic style, exaggerated action, romantic flare, and heavy casts. The world was ready to embrace the musical again. Adopting this formula and adding cultural growth, modern socialization elements and quirky comedy, unexpectedly popular films like High School Musical (2006) and a new film adaptation (after 1988’s version) of Hairspray (2007) were born.
This boom influenced the creation of Glee (2009), a television show dedicated to covering the hottest songs and facing today’s high school issues. The ratings of the show grew as it challenged social reform, shed a powerful light on getting involved in school, and contributed unforgettable performances, unique characters and hilarious plot lines. Following the trend, the most recent influential musical movie Pitch Perfect (2012) exhibits that song and dance is more than just a talent: it’s badass. Pitch Perfect and others are transforming ideologies of what it means to be cool, allowing for free dynamics of social groups and revolutionizing songs of our generation.
In an updated twist on the warring cheerleader squads of Bring it on (2000), Pitch Perfect stars Anna Kendrick as loner and too-cool-for-school Beca, who reluctantly joins the Barden Bellas a capella Group. In typical teen films, the “youth clique” cliché has been separated into cheerleaders, football players, nerds and/or band geeks but in this college it’s the “you can’t sit with us” vibe if you’re not a part of an a capella group. Even the guys think it’s cool to sing and dance, creating their own legendary Treble Makers group, where cocky leader Adam DeVine calls wannabe members nerds. Rebel Wilson, co-star of the film expressed the positive messages of the film, stating in People Magazine that “The Bella girls are all different shapes and sizes and nationalities,” and “I think one of the good messages in the movie is that you’re all beautiful.” Wilson’s character refers to herself in the film as “Fat Amy” to prevent others from calling her that behind her back, as her defense she portrays assertive self-confidence and has no filter in expressing her outrageous thoughts. Fat Amy’s relatable quality in “this is who I am, deal with it attitude” inspired Fat Amy’s twitter accounts that are more popular and active than some real life celebs. Wilson’s and Kendricks’ performances put them on the map in Hollywood. These actors’ free, rebellious, open and fun real life and on screen attitudes have created modern day role models for young women.
No character can be taken too seriously. The leader of the Bellas, Aubrey is a perfectionist and speaks in her own a capella language, using phrases such as “I’m Dixie Chick serious” and “aca-scuse me?” while using band conductors hand motions when talking to her team. This different form of sorority girls isn’t exactly the ideal group for Beca who struggles with Aubrey’s regimental and traditional ways of leading the group in song. Beca would much rather implement new mash-up arrangements, experiment in different genres and layers and change their 1970’s flight attendant Bella uniform. This is foreshadowed from the beginning with Beca performing “Cups”, a top hit single.
Pitch Perfect is a prime example of the value of supporting the arts in school programs which face regular cutbacks, as well as the need for diverse and independent voices in film (especially in the current economy) and illustrates the innovation and creativity in mash-ups and remixing in culture today. Unlike the fantasy other worldliness of the golden age of musicals, as well as the Broadway-generated self-contained worlds of big musicals, Pitch Perfect is set in a realistic, modern world. It’s edgy and self-aware to match our modern times and appetites. A success in theaters and on DVD/viewing on demand since 2012, Pitch Perfect achieved something that few film genres outside of Animation and Comic Books have: a sequel. Pitch Perfect 2 is in theatres May 15th and is directed by the fabulous Elizabeth Banks (who also happens to have her own witty role in the film). Watch the Barden Bellas pump out original mixes, bring in new entertaining members, and take sass to even greater heights.
By Darcy Smith. This feature is part of our ongoing film review series: Lust for Life: The Music of Film, where Step On magazine writers take a look at all the films about music and made of great music that are the soundtrack of our lives.