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Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 07:36 am

Pitch an off-key effort

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Hana Mae Lee, Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick and Alexis Knapp in Pitch Perfect.

Jason Moore’s Pitch Perfect tries very hard to be liked, so much so that it winds up grating on the audience rather than charming it. Set in the world of collegiate a cappella competitions (yes, there is such a thing), the connection to the world of “Glee” is undeniable. Many of the characters are social outcasts who grasp the opportunity to express themselves and bolster their confidence through the film’s various musical showdowns. As with most movies made from recycled elements, the success of this venture lies on the shoulders of its cast. They’re required to bring something special to this brand of leftovers. Fortunately, Moore has actress Anna Kendrick at his disposal, and she very nearly saves the show with her pluck and sincerity.

The Twilight veteran stars as Beca, a reluctant college student who’s attending Barden University at the insistence of her father. What she really wants to do is go to California in order to pursue a career as a record producer, which is a career she very well may succeed at as evidenced by the music mixes she’s always compiling. Ready to just bide her time for four years, she’s coerced into auditioning for the Barden Bellas, one of four a cappella groups on campus. This one is lorded over by Aubrey (Anna Camp), a type A personality intent on taking the group to the national championship in order to make up for their disastrous appearance from the year before. Thank goodness levelheaded Chloe (Brittany Snow) is on hand to mediate between the group’s obsessive leader and the rebellious Beca.

All of the requisite elements are present in Kay Cannon’s screenplay. Beca is given a love interest in the person of Jesse (Skylar Astin), who belongs to a rival singing group. Comic relief, at least according to some, is provided by Fat Amy, played by Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson, whose act has already worn thin after getting her first significant role in last year’s Bridesmaids. Predictable singing competitions also abound, as do gross-out jokes and one-dimensional supporting characters. Yep, it’s the same old tune.

However, as irritating as many of the song and dance sequences are – man, these kids are cheery – there’s more than a bit of musical talent on display. The film’s highlight occurs at the halfway point when the campus’s four a cappella groups gather in an empty swimming pool for a riff off. A musical category is chosen at random, such as “Women of ’80s Rock,” and each group must quickly re-create an appropriate song, only to be stopped when another group forcefully interrupts them. Tunes from Pat Benatar, Madonna and Toni Basil get the college-harmony treatment and new life is brought to each. There’s a seeming spontaneity here that the other numbers lack and much of the music that takes place after this scene suffers in comparison.

However, the film remains watchable thanks to the lovely and talented Ms. Kendrick. Vacillating from fare that’s beneath her talent (Twilight and its sequels) and projects that let her mine her potential (Up in the Air), the actress ends up being far better than most of the material she finds herself in. That’s certainly the case here, as you can tell she’s operating on a different level than her costars, opting for subtlety and stillness while those who share the screen with her are often obvious in their choices and far too broad in their characterizations. Kendrick doesn’t have to strain to hit any high notes here. She has the confidence and skill to deliver a solid performance without having to strain or show off.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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