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.