I don’t want to oversell this uneven movie but it contains quite a few laughs, upbeat music and a very attractive cast of hard-working performers. The film seems to have been made without a firm notion of who the target audience is but that may be just another way of saying a wide range of people may like it.
See of this interests you: The story takes place in the previously unexplored (to say the least) world of collegiate competitions in a cappella singing. It’s a quirky world not unlike, say, the dog show world featured in that terribly funny movie “Best in Show.”
Oscar and Tony-nominated actress Anna Kendrick anchors the film, but it’s really an ensemble piece displaying an array of super talented young men and women with a snappy mash-up of singing and dancing styles.
There’s this, though: At times the film twists itself into a pretzel to get laughs. Other times laughs come so easily you wonder what happened to the editing process that weeds out the bad and leaves only the good and glorious. It seems to have malfunctioned here.
Best of all though, “Pitch Perfect” never takes itself seriously. The filmmakers understand there is something just a little bit geeky and campy about a cappella singing. So they make certain everyone is mildly to seriously eccentric.
The genesis of this film will perhaps explain the tone: A 2008 book by Elle columnist Mickey Rapkin about these singing competitions fell into the screen adaptation hands of Kay Cannon, a former writer and producer on NBC’s “30 Rock” and now writer/co-exec producer of Fox’s “New Girl.”
Then Tony-nominated stage director Jason Moore signed aboard. He is the creative force behind the Broadway musical hit “Avenue Q,” which mixed puppetry, singing and animation, as well as “Shrek the Musical,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Jerry Springer: The Opera.”
Understandably then, there’s a smarty-pants, tongue-in-cheek tone to “Pitch Perfect.” it trickles down to little quirks in the dialogue where characters play off the very expression “a cappella” so words come out like: “aca-scuse me?” and “aca-awkward.” It’s aca-musing for a while and then just “aca-nnoying.”
Kendrick’s Beca has a chip on her shoulder as she enters the fictitious Barden University but is nevertheless not an un-cheerful sort. Her parents’ divorce, her dad (who exasperatingly teaches there) and a sullen Korean roommate add to her reserve.
She gets drafted into an a cappella girls group, the Bellas, by its haughty priestess of acoustic singing, Anna Camp’s Aubrey, in a naked shower scene that is quite funny. She also finds herself pursued, not completely unwillingly, by Skylar Astin’s Jesse, who has joined Bellas’ male rivals, the Treblemakers.
Among the Bellas is Fat Amy from Tasmania, played by the super-sized and super talented Rebel Wilson. Her description of starring in an Aussie production of “Fiddler on the Roof” along with an aboriginal cast makes for one of the film’s more hilarious throwaway moments.
Brittany Snow’s Chloe is the always eager second in command with Alexis Knapp’s D-cup and oversexed Stacie, Ester Dean’s lesbian Cynthia and Hana Mae Lee’s very soft-spoken Lilly rounding out the Bellas.
Adam DeVine plays the egomaniacal Bumper, lead singer of the Treblemakers, while Ben Platt is Benji, Jesse’s magic-loving roommate who is obsessed with joining the group that will not have him. (“Geek alert!” intones Bumper.)
The central focus are the rehearsals and competitions, which give way to constant musical numbers and niftily choreographed dances. Spicing the competitions are the “Best in Show”-like television commentary by John Michael Higgins and the film’s co-producer, the always welcome Elizabeth Banks.
The film has its missteps such as an unnecessary plot devise that finds Aubrey responding to pressure situations with voluminous vomiting. There apparently exists a strong sentiment in studio executive suites that no comedy will pay off in the youth market without excessive body fluids.
Mostly though, the film stays bright and happy in its glorified superficiality and loving devotion to songs old and new. In its own weird way, this is a throwback to the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney MGM backlot musicals of long ago. Which is not a bad pedigree.
Opens: September 28, 2012 (Universal Pictures)
Production companies: Universal Pictures and Gold Circle Films present a Gold Circle Films/Brownstone production
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin, Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, John Michael Higginss, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Jason Moore
Screenwriter: Kay Cannon
Based on the book by: Mickey Rapkin
Producers: Paul Brooks, Max Handelman, Elizabeth Banks
Executive producer: Scott Niemeyer
Director of photography: Julio Macat
Production designer: Barry Robison
Music: Christophe Beck, Mark Kilian
Costume designer: Salvador Perez
Choreography: Jeff Levine
Editor: Lisa Zeno Churgin
PG-13 rating, 102 minutes