These days, geekery rules. A hit (albeit inconsistent) sitcom celebrates outsider teens covering pop songs. At at the fictional Barden University, male a cappella singers are gods – well, if you don’t count the jocks and frat boys. “Pitch Perfect” both embraces singer stereotypes and reverts them with snappy quips, with fun performances and plenty of sweet notes along the way.
Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a hip city girl (in case her eyeliner and visible tattoos didn’t tip you off) whose dreams of being a DJ are diverted by her Barden professor dad, who insists she take advantage of the free tuition. After a chance encounter (in the shower) Beca ends up joining the Bellas, a female a cappella group whose earnest leaders (Brittany Snow and Anna Camp) dream of winning the international championships. The only issues? The Treblemakers, the rival all-male a cappella group with a snarky frontman (Adam Devine) and a repertoire that’s more, uh, current than that of the Bellas, who favor Ace of Base.
Like “Bring It On”, 1999’s exuberant take on cheerleading, “Pitch Perfect” strikes a near-perfect balance of parody and flat-out adoration. Kay Cannon’s screenplay serves up laugh-out-loud clips and even a little gross humor, but with a self-aware twist (in other words, the polar opposite of “Glee”). The able cast runs with it: Kendrick, a Broadway actress since childhood, is subtle smirks mixed with soulful vocals. Skylar Astin (“Hamlet 2″, Broadway’s “Spring Awakening”) has some nice moments as Beca’s cinephile love interest, and Ben Platt gives good geek as Astin’s roommate, an amateur magician and a cappella groupie. John Michael Higgins and co-producer Elizabeth Banks shine in cameos as competition emcees (a cappella competitions have emcees? Sure they do, and here it works).
The two strongest performances, however, are Snow and Rebel Wilson. Whether she’s enthusing about her “lady time” soundtrack or tearfully overcoming a minor ailment, Snow’s bubbly optimism and total commitment are forever entertaining to watch. And as the self-proclaimed “Fat” Amy, Wilson mixes broad gestures and snarky asides and manages to visibly crack up her costars. Add in corny-yet-funky cover songs and “Pitch Perfect” is cinematic proof that lighthearted doesn’t mean stupid, and female-dominated material doesn’t have to center around fighting over men. No diggity, no doubt.