“Pitch Perfect” is about the competitive collegiate a cappella scene, an apparently vicious place filled with college students more interested in performing a perfect rendition of the Ace of Base classic “The Sign” than ever going to class. It’s the heartwarming story of how a thin, pretty white girl learns to love college enough not to drop out, and how even though her a cappella team has members who are not white (gasp!) and not skinny (gasp again!), they can still all be friends and sing songs together.
OK, it’s not that bad. It’s not exactly “Citizen Kane” but it is 1) often hysterically funny, and 2) full of fun musical performances. Music-producer-in-the-making Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a freshman at Barden University, a small liberal arts college in … well, I’m not sure where it’s supposed to be. It’s sunny all the time, so let’s say California.
After a series of unexpected events, including being harassed in the shower by Brittany Snow to sing the song “Titanium,” Beca (where has your other “c” gone, Beca?) finds herself a member of the school’s all female a cappella group. This is not to be confused with one of the other three Barden a cappella groups, including the all-male national champion Treblemakers, the girls’ bête noir.
The Bellas, as they’re called, are run with military precision by Anna Camp’s Aubrey. They’re coming off of a humiliating run at the national championship ruined by Aubrey’s, um, nerves. She’s determined not to have the same thing happen again and recruits a new team to come together and defeat the obnoxious Treblemakers, as well as the rest of the country. Despite this hard-edged determination, she’s not much of a risk taker. She wants to run with the same polite performance of “The Sign” that got them to the national competition the previous year, but Beca wants to try something new. You can tell Beca is a rebel because of her dark eyeliner and the fact that she is rude to people who like her, including her father and a handsome classmate.
Yes, there are some simply drawn characters, and some dropped B-plots, and a lot of actors you’ve never seen before. Yes, the movie is trying to be “Bring It On.” There are a number of truly offensive jokes that don’t land. In spite of all that, let me emphasize that this is a very weird movie, and I mean that as a compliment. This is a movie with a member of a singing group who is all but inaudible. Her teammates can’t hear her, but we can, and everything she says is so weird, and so funny, that by the time the Bellas get around to a little group therapy by sharing their secrets, you just know that hers is going to be the best. You will not be disappointed. Hana Mae Lee, who plays the near-silent Lilly, has a go-for-broke weirdness that is simply delightful. Anna Kendrick’s Beca is the most normal of the ladies, possibly a necessity because someone needed to be the straight man, but also because that is what people like to hire Anna Kendrick to do. She’s perfectly fine, but a little overshadowed by the outsized characters around her. A character who names herself Fat Amy? Someone who purposely anger vomits at people? Forget normal.
I was not surprised to hear that screenwriter Kay Cannon is a writer and producer on “30 Rock.” The anarchic humor reminds me of that show. “Pitch Perfect” may not be a box office hit, but it will find a devoted audience all the same.