A cappella is one of those things that’s huge in college, but kind of invisible everywhere else in pop culture. But the musical form gets a rare moment in the spotlight with “Pitch Perfect,” a movie that has enough going for it to overcome its many formulaic qualities.
Directed by Broadway and TV veteran Jason Moore and written by 30 Rock/New Girl writer Kay Cannon, “Pitch Perfect” is firmly in the “Bring It On” tradition, as a slickly directed musical comedy, centered on female characters with an emphasis on the competition and implied cat-fighting.
It mostly works because the characters are engaging and the musical performances well-chosen and well-done. And there’s not nearly as much melodrama as on the show’s other major inspiration, Glee.
Anna Kendrick stars as Beca, a college freshman who can’t wait to ditch school to start her career as a DJ in L.A. When she’s overheard singing in the shower- shades of Zooey Deschanel in “Elf”- she’s pulled into an elite campus a cappella group, led by queen bees Anna Camp and Brittany Snow.
Other notable characters include Rebel Wilson’s “Fat Amy”- who nicknamed herself “so twiggy bitches like you don’t do it behind my back”- and ambiguously gay Cynthia Rose (Esther Dean.)
Adam Devine – from the great Comedy Central series Workaholics– is hilarious as the main villain, and there’s also room in the cast for both John Michael Higgins and John Benjamin Hickey. Higgins and Elizabeth Banks do a funny riff on Fred Willard’s “Best in Show” routine, which can’t be a coincidence since Higgins was in that movie. Although, why would an a cappella show have color commentators?
Indeed, it’s a strong cast, even though several of these “college students” look like they’re pushing 30 and have been playing adults in movies for some time.
Wilson, who I haven’t really enjoyed in previous roles, is just dynamite here. I’m just wondering where Kendrick, who was Oscar-nominated three years ago for “Up in the Air,” has been up to- she hasn’t been very active with the exception of her delightful Twitter account.
At some colleges like mine- especially liberal arts schools where there’s no football team, a cappella groups are actually much higher on the social totem pole than you’d think. I admire “Pitch Perfect” for capturing this and turning it into an overachieving, winning movie.