Thursday, September 27, 2012

Music Geeks Unite

A Funny Look at Singing Competitions

By Skip Sheffield

Maybe I enjoyed “Pitch Perfect” too much because I was in a high school a cappella group and had the time of my life.

On the other hand, my guest had no such experience, yet she laughed and enjoyed the film as much as I.

School a cappella groups have come a long way in the eons since I was in one. We dressed formally and sang Madrigals from the 15th through 17th centuries in seven-part harmony, as well as Broadway show tunes when we performed at country clubs for money (it went to the choir fund, not us).

The groups in “Pitch Perfect” perform contemporary pop, hip hop, even rap, with complicated, intricate choreography and flashy outfits.

“Pitch Perfect” is based on a book by GQ writer Mickey Rapkin, who traveled the country observing college a cappella competitions. The screenplay was written by Kay Canon (“30 Rock”) and it is the feature film directorial debut by Jason Moore, who was nominated for a Tony Award for directing “Avenue Q.”

Anna Kendricks stars as Becca, a headstrong but directionless college freshman at Barden University, where her father teaches comparative literature. Becca wants to compose music and move to L.A. and become a DJ. Dad insists she at least try college for a year, then if she still wants to go to L.A., OK.

When a member of the female a cappella group The Bellas hears Becca sing in the shower, she accosts her and urges her to audition for the group. The Bellas have never won the collegiate a cappella competition, but Becca’s more progressive musical ideas may just be the key to success.

That’s the setup of a comedy of personality clashes as the Bellas try to get their act together. Anna Kendrick is enormously appealing as Becca, and her singing voice is quite good.

However the leader of The Bellas is Chloe (Brittany Snow), who is quite set in her traditional ways. Outstanding comedy relief is provided by Rebel Wilson as the self-proclaimed Fat Amy, who is “the best singer in Tasmania.” Wilson is fearless and shameless in her pursuit of laughs, and she scores.

At the other end of the spectrum is Hana Mae Lee as Lilly, a girl whose voice is so tiny and meek you can barely hear her. Then there is promiscuous Stacie (Alexis Knapp), who plays the slut for laughs.

The guys hardly count in this estrogen-fueled comedy. Adam DeVine is the egotistical jerk singing star Bumper is at one end of the spectrum and Skyler Astin is nice guy Jesse (and possible romantic interest) at the other.

If you want to laugh, not think too hard and enjoy tight harmonies and dancing, “Pitch Perfect” is pleasant indeed.

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