At what point, I wonder, did ‘a cappella’ stop meaning ‘singing without instrumental accompaniment’? This frothy frippery concludes with the ‘A Cappella World Championships’ in Copenhagen, at which contestants from around the globe compete with the support of bass, synthesisers and drums etc – a veritable wall of sound! But let’s not quibble… The Barden Bellas are an all-girl group of college singers with a long and prestigious history. After three years of being the best on the circuit, the current crop disgrace themselves through a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ at a performance in front of the Obamas at the Lincoln Center and are ostracised from the circuit for their poor show. The only way back for them is to shine in Copenhagen. Beca (Anna Kendrick) has ambitions beyond graduation; Chloe (Brittany Snow), the most senior member, doesn’t want to let go of these golden days; Emily (Haile Steinfeld), the newcomer, wants to write songs; and Amy (Rebel Wilson) is the fat Australian who almost steals the show.
It is a pleasing development, without doubt, that Hollywood would put an actress of Wilson’s proportions in a leading role in a teen flick, but when so many of her gags are based on getting a laugh out of her fatness, the ‘liberating’ aspect of the casting is somewhat tarnished – and there are moments when Wilson herself, ebullient though she always is, seems to be aware of this. But again – let’s not quibble, for despite the slim storyline and its predictable resolution, there is a lot to like in Elizabeth Banks’s confident directorial debut. An actress with a natural gift for humour, Banks’s double act with co-commentator John Michael Higgins also adds an element of necessary satire as the pair get away with some hilariously un-PC jokes about the boy-girl team from the Philippines, the Koreans – ‘nobody cares about them’ – and how ‘you won’t win because you’re American and everybody hates us’. Even Snoop Dogg is not out of place and the music and choreography is terrific.