Not half a dozen years ago, the non-revelation that a male American Idol contestant had come from the land of a capella was enough to make Simon Cowell openly mock him on live television. Never mind that American Idol itself was already a pretty dorky way to jump-start a life on stage, somebody had to be kicked down to the bottom of the music careerism dogpile. Tough luck, a capella kids. You'd always have "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
And then came that moment on Glee when an all-boy a capella team re-presented Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream" as both a fantasy of same-sex puppy love and as breaking news for the uninitiated about the Right Now thing that a capella could be. It was not only the most open, affectionate, moving moment that the chaotic, undisciplined TV show will probably ever produce, but it was also musically fresh, announcing that a gang of human voices could precisely mimic the way technology alters, filters and warps the human voice for contemporary pop songs.
So now Beca (Anna Kendrick) arrives on a college campus. She's a DJ. She's blasting her own remix of Azealia Banks's "212" in her headphones, a perfectly genre-busting, gauntlet-throwing inclusion from the film's music supervisor. Beca has no intention of singing with any embarrassing, prim, a capella choir, which is exactly what The Bellas are, an all-female group so boring and uncool that their dictatorial leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) literally throws up on herself while singing a coy arrangement of "The Sign" by Ace of Base. They're the mainstream movie version of Greta Gerwig's mini-gang of chastely weird, suicide prevention obsessives seen in this year's arthouse oddity Damsels in Distress. Of course, The Bellas need Beca to shake them up.
They also need the sexually brash, Adele-voiced, extreme confidence of "Fat Amy" (Rebel Wilson), whispery freak Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) and mysterious, handsy lesbian Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) to help push them past mediocrity and into serious competition with the egocentric male a capella crew, The Treble Makers. If you doubt for a second that this happens, or that Beca fails to fall in love with the least obnoxious, most sincere guy from that group (Spring Awakening's Skylar Astin), then you haven't seen Bring It On enough times.
And that's the movie's biggest pleasure: it takes the underdog-team-turned-champions equation and plugs in smart comedic and musical variables so that you don't mind watching it all over again. It abandons the grim, job-training reality of college life for the version most likely imagined by tweens who grew up memorizing every minute of High School Musical. It allows "No Diggity" a left-field resurrection as a fastidious, Caucasian-girl sex anthem. It pushes Rebel Wilson out of the box as the next Zach Galifianakis. And most importantly for the people with a bigger stake in it than most audience members, it takes a capella off the no-fly list of acceptable personal hobbies. Simon Cowell will still find mean stuff to say about you. You just won't care anymore.