Movie review: 'Pitch Perfect' is right on key
“Pitch Perfect” is a by-the-numbers redemptive sports drama with rival teams and feuding friends competing to take home the championship. And, it’s not set on the baseball diamond, but rather in the warbling world of a cappella singing. Think “Glee” and “Dodgeball” all mashed up.
I know it sounds hokey, horrible, even, but “Pitch” – thanks to its fine young cast of “aca-bitches” – overcomes its predictable premise and silly setup to be frivolous fun, offering a light escape from a fall film season full of heavy and dramatic Oscar-bait. It’s “aca-awesome,” to use the film’s ongoing reliance of the “aca” prefix.
Making his feature film debut, Tony-nominated director, Jason Moore (“Avenue Q”) – working from a script by “30 Rock” writer Kay Cannon – stuffs his movie with a terrific cast that includes Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) and Rebel Wilson. The “Bridesmaids” and “Bachelorette” alum flat-out steals the movie with her self-deprecating zingers (calling herself Fat Amy) and no-holds-barred physical comedy. Along with Brittany Snow (“Finding Amanda”) and Anna Camp (“The Help”), the girls are part of the Barden Bellas, the all-female a cappella group at the Ivy League-ish Barden University. Their cross-campus rivals are the Treble Makers, a perennial powerhouse on the collegiate a cappella circuit.
The plot picks up at the start of the new school year. The Bellas seek retribution for a botched performance in last year’s finals. Mean girl and team captain Aubrey (Camp) takes no prisoners in whipping her team of misfit newbies into game-shape. When Kendrick’s angsty Becca challenges tradition by suggesting they perform new songs, the stage is set for a full-on clash. Meanwhile, Becca is being pursued by Jesse (Skylar Astin), who is part of the enemy Trebles, whose members she’s forbidden to fraternize with. Becca also has problems getting along with her dad (“The Big C’s John Benjamin Hickey), making friends, and all those other rote issues the main character suffers in coming-of-age stories.
Mercifully, the song-and-dance routines mask the pedestrian plot. As does the small bits by Elizabeth Banks (“What to Expect When You’re Expecting”) and veteran sports announcer Dan Patrick, playing a pair of warblers-turned-commentators at the a cappella finals in New York’s Lincoln Center.
Hitting all the right notes, “Pitch Perfect” really soars during its performance numbers, especially during the “riff-off” and the finale. Kendrick raps and romps like a champ. There’s also a well-done spoof of a sorority initiation ceremony. You’ll be walk out of the theater feeling pretty harmonious.
“Pitch Perfect” opens in limited release today. You can see it at the Legacy Showcase, Dedham and in Boston at the AMC Boston Common and the Regal Fenway theaters. It opens everywhere Oct. 5.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(PG-13 for sexual material, language and drug references). Cast includes Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Brittany Snow. 3 stars out of 4.