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When It Comes To Character Detail, 'Pitch Perfect' Nails It

Anna Kendrick in <em>Pitch Perfect</em>.
Peter Iovino
Universal Pictures
Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect.

Pitch Perfect, the new comedy that opened in some cities last Friday and goes wider this Friday, is set in a world very close to my own heart: college a cappella.

I know, I know — it's dorky, it's silly, you hated those people at your school — I get it. But I loved it when I did it, and even now, I carry around a few of these compilations on my phone.

But as much as I enjoyed all the singing (and I did), it's not how the film won me over. What won me over was Beca's raggedy manicure.

Up at the top of the post, that's Beca. Played by Anna Kendrick, she shows up at college as an aspiring DJ whose first stop is an internship at the college radio station. She's not even sure she wants to be in college, but in a very movie-like development, she promises her dad she'll try for a year and participate in something. The something winds up being the Bellas, the women's a cappella group that's fallen on hard times after a disastrous showing in a national competition.

And by the time she's been at school for a while, these are Beca's nails.

Nail close-up showing ragged manicure

Here's why I care: There's absolutely nothing new in the main structure of Pitch Perfect that you haven't seen in other movies about people joining ragtag groups — it's not only a little Bring It On, but a little Bad News Bears, a little Mighty Ducks, a little School Of Rock. A movie like this, in all honesty, is a little like a cover of a song you already know: it's about execution.

But what I liked so much about this one, and what made it feel a little different, is that unlike the grumpy coaches and high-strung weirdos who often are your entry point into a story like this, Beca comes into the movie as a pretty complete, pretty happy person. She has something she loves (making mixes), she's pursuing it in a competent, normal way (working at the radio station), and she gives off a kind of relaxed confidence that's dishearteningly unusual in stories about young women in college. For one thing, it's the same relaxed confidence that the guy she meets (Skylar Astin) has, so we're not in the realm of romances based on anyone needing to lighten up, get more serious, get less serious, pull it together, or learn to love himself or herself. They start likable and stay likable, and the inevitable bumps are the kinds of bumps that likable people sometimes bump into.

So, the manicure: It's very unusual that I would notice anyone's fingernails in a movie, but I genuinely did in this case, and the reason I did is that these are a busy college girl's nails. They tell a whole little tale about her: she keeps them short, she polishes them now and then (dark polish, naturally), but after a while, she's doing other things, and sometimes she picks at them in class, and she doesn't really care that much, so now she has the broken-down manicure of the actual preoccupied 18-year-old. I've had this nail polish. Many if not most women have had this nail polish. When? In college. Old enough to polish your nails, not old enough to keep them up.

It shouldn't be a big deal to see a movie that makes you say, "Whoever made this decision has actually met humans who are kind of like the ones in the movie!" But it is. I have no idea who made this decision, but nails in a movie, on a movie star, are not that way by accident. Somebody decided she should have a deteriorating polish job, and that person was right.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

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