You understand why Hollywood wants to hire Anna Kendrick. She flatters a producer’s intelligence. Casting her to do anything in your movie makes you seem smart.
It’s the same thing for an audience. You see Kendrick in something you don’t think you should be watching, and it’s OK. People who don’t want to be at a “Twilight” movie, for instance, but find themselves at one anyway? Kendrick’s for them. Jodie Foster and Sigourney Weaver do that. So do Emma Stone and Kerry Washington. Smart people in dumb entertainment situations relate to them.
The college singing-group comedy “Pitch Perfect” isn’t dumb, but Kendrick’s participation implies that it might also be smart. And sometimes it is. She plays Becca, a reasonably cool freshman who aspires to be a record producer. (At the moment her thing, musically, is the layered mash-up.) Becca does grunt work at the college radio station and reluctantly auditions for a prim, vaguely sexed-up a cappella outfit. They perform in flight-attendant getups and chirp their way through pre-millennial hits such as Ace of Base’s “The Sign.” In this world, they’re traditionalists. The producer in Becca knows the only way to win nationals is to throw the audience, judges, and dourly catty color commentators — Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins — a curveball.
The movie is based on Mickey Rapkin’s book about the a cappella universe, and it nails the music-nerd obsessiveness, the gravitational pull of some singers’ obnoxious talent, and the fact that the most beautiful a cappella comes not from the solo singer but from the harmonies’ wall of sound. For its comedy, “Pitch Perfect” rubs its showy personalities together. The rest of the cast includes Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Adam DeVine, Ester Dean, and the disarmingly adorable Skylar Astin, the boy in the rival group who gets close to Becca by showing her “The Breakfast Club.”
The throwaway lines in Kay Cannon’s script are so many and so expertly deployed that you basically spend the whole movie digging through the trash. Mostly, “Pitch Perfect” leans hard on the lawlessness of the stout Australian Rebel Wilson, who plays a character called Fat Amy and has yet to find a movie that requires her to pick a character and stay in it. Her broadness and the way it’s used points to where all comedies starring women seem forced to go: the bathroom. I don’t object to the two scenes of projectile vomit here. They’re funny. But once one character falls into a lake of it and commences making the equivalent of snow angels, you fear that the movies have learned the wrong lesson from “Bridesmaids.”
For her part, Kendrick manages to be absent when the vomiting happens. She can make a lot of things legitimate, but she doesn’t even bother with that.Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wesley_morris.