Anna Kendrick only had a small role in her debut film, 2003's indie musical "Camp
," but it was a splashy one that found her bringing down the house with her performance of "Ladies Who Lunch" from Broadway musical "Company." Since then, she has earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for 2009's "Up in the Air
," won acclaim for her lovely work in 2011's "50/50
," and even made supporting appearances in the "Twilight
" series as female protagonist Bella's friend, voice-of-reason Jessica. Through it all, Kendrick has not been given the chance to singularly headline her own major studio featureuntil now. In many ways, the snappily written "Pitch Perfect" is just about the perfect vehicle for the actress, a bubbly, sincere comedy that asks her to put to good use her comic talents, her dramatic prowess, and her knockout singing voice. Jason Moore, a television director making his first motion picture, and screenwriter Kay Cannon (TV's "30 Rock"), adapting the book by Mickey Rapkin, have hit an audience-pleasing home run that ought to expand well beyond die-hard fans of "Glee."
Beca (Anna Kendrick) enters her freshman year at Barden University not yet sold on college at all. She wants to go to L.A. and immediately pursue her dreams to DJ and produce music, but her fatherthe school's dean of studentshas offered her a free ride and urges her to get a degree. When she is approached by controlling queen bee Aubrey (Anna Camp) and star singer Chloe (Brittany Snow) about the possibility of joining their a cappella group, the Bellas, Beca not exactly politely declines. Once Chloe overhears Beca singing in the dorm showers, however, she is adamant that she audition. With nothing better to do, Beca soon finds herself a part of the Bellas. Even more surprising, she enjoys it, making more girlfriends than she's ever had before while urging them all alongmuch to the chagrin of stubborn traditionalist Aubreyto be courageous in their song choices and mash-ups as they compete alongside Barden's male a cappella group, the Treblemakers, for coveted spots in the finals at New York City's Lincoln Center. Meanwhile, Beca begins an initially tentative relationship with new member of the Treblemakers Jesse (Skylar Astin), a lover of movie soundtracks. Whereas he wears his heart on his sleeve, Beca has always been a more emotionally guarded person. It's a hang-up that she comes to realize is a problem as the school year plays out, one that might break them up before they've had a chance to fully get to know each other.
An organic female-empowerment comedy in the vein of 2011's "Bridesmaids
"yes, self-appointed macho men, there's enough acerbic and crude humor that you'll like it, too"Pitch Perfect" is the kind of easy-breezy entertainment that goes down as sweetly as oxygen. The story is pure formula, but, like Jesse's love of 1985's "The Breakfast Club," that's okay as long as there are well-observed characters to care about and a savvy soundtrack to compliment them. Kay Cannon's highly quotable script is certain to put a number of cleverly funny lines in the public consciousness, while at least one characterthe wild, confident, self-named "Fat Amy" (Rebel Wilson)is already on her way to becoming iconic in the same way McLovin has from 2007's "Superbad
" (speaking of McLovin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse has an extended cameo as audition master Tommy). There are other standout supporting players, as well, from is-she-or-isn't-she lesbian Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean), always going out of her way to get a handle on her fellow Bellas' backsides, to the mouse-like Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), so soft-spoken she can rarely be heard at all, to Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins), the joyfully daft, self-deprecating singing competition commentators. Being in all of their well-versed company more than make up for the obviousness of the plot, which takes the Bellas from arduous rehearsals, to the regionals, to the semi-finals, to the climactic sing-off finals.
Anna Kendrick leads the way as Beca, and it's a different part for her, a bit more hard-edged than most of her past roles. Wearing thick eye-liner and a tattoo across her shoulder, Beca puts on an alterna-chick front as a way of avoiding getting too close to others, then gradually softens the more she finds a place where she feels she belongs at Barden University. Kendrick wonderfully navigates Beca's tricky personality, wavering between prickly and vulnerable, exhibiting the love her character has for mixing her own music, hoping the college radio station might one day play her stuff, and eventually dropping her defenses as she lets others into her life. A scene where she watches "The Breakfast Club" in its entirety for the first time and is overcome with emotion by the end is exquisitely played, symbolic of the compassionate, aching nature she's been working so hard to hide. As Fat Amy, Rebel Wilson (2012's "Bachelorette
") continues her rise as an actress and comedienne of notable depth and range, her very appearance enough to light up each scene she's in. Her solo during the Bellas' regionals performance, concluding in an improvised shirt-ripping, button-popping finale, is a highlight. And then there's Elizabeth Banks (2012's "People Like Us
"), who also produces, and John Michael Higgins (2012's "Big Miracle
"), dynamite partners in crime as filter-free commentators Gail and John. Just about everything that escapes their mouths is worthy of a snicker or a full-on guffaw. Upon seeing the Bellas take the stage at the finals, Gail exclaims in all seriousness, "These girls might just turn me!"
"Pitch Perfect" features a healthy mix of '80s, '90s and current music from a variety of genres, much of it performed by the actors as mash-up covers. It keeps the momentum high and the narrative zipping along despite predictability. Credit the makers from not shying away from, or being too cool for school to deny, the pop pleasures of, say, Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" and Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone." While not every gag worksthe "puke angel," which viewers will instantly recognize, might go one step too farthe intelligent wit of the dialogue far outweighs the occasional baser elements. Best of all, the movie leaves its audience feeling good and never patronized, with Beca first and foremost a heroine worth following. Though it might sound like a hacky platitude, don't be surprised if "Pitch Perfect" leaves a fair share of its audiences outwardly cheering.