I first saw the movie trailer for Pitch Perfect when I made the wrong decision and went and watched Ruby Sparks (which is a terrible, terrible film). The best thing about the night, apart from spending time with my sister, was the trailer for Pitch Perfect. It looked amazing. So I showed it to my girl friend and one of the husbands and we agreed that we must go off and see it when it eventually opened in Melbourne – because it was going to be awesome.
The movie has been out for a while, so I don’t have any personal qualms about filling this full of spoilers. If you haven’t watched the movie, skip this post, go and see it, and then come back and read (or not, I’m not fussed).So, no plot synopsis, because that’s all the in the trailer. What I really really wanted to do with this review was point out all the really great things that are in the the movie, and some of the really problematic things that could have been avoided. I really enjoyed this movie, I enjoyed it despite the problematic things that I saw, because I found the non-problematic things funny and the instances of gross-out humour, gross but cool because I have an inner 12 year old.
The Good Stuff
The main character is female
It’s sadly very rare these days to find a movie with a female main character. This was also a show about a group of women, and a mixed group of women at that. The main character, Beca, is only at college because her father has demanded it of her, but she wants to go to LA and be a DJ (not a radio DJ), and mix music. This is typically a male dominated field, but she knows she’s good and she wants to be involved with the music industry. So a female character who wants to enter a male dominated field, I thought that was pretty cool.
The movie had non-white characters in it who didn’t die
Although there are some very problematic racial stereotypes (see next section), not everyone in this movie was white. There were East Asian characters, a character from South Asia, and an African American. No one died.
The arseholes were arseholes
Unsurprisingly there were arseholes in the movie, but they were clearly identified as arseholes. The two a capella judges were horrible about Fat Amy’s weight, the all-girl singing group, and each other, but they were horrible characters. The arsehole in the all-male singing group was an arsehole, and he was clearly identified as such, but what he said and how he acted.
This set the tone for the movie:
Aubrey: What’s your name?
Fat Amy: Fat Amy.
Aubrey: You call yourself Fat Amy?
Fat Amy: Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.
There is a fat woman who is awesome
Rebel Wilson plays Fat Amy, who I thought would be the butt of all the jokes, because she’s fat. She wasn’t, she made most of the jokes, including one which was specifically for Australians (which was about Tasmania). At one point in the movie, everyone is confessing something dark and secret, and Fat Amy says, “I only joined the group to get away from all my boyfriends.” No one laughs, but it makes an earlier scene in the movie, set over a school holiday period, make much more sense – Fat Amy is sitting in a swimming pool surrounded by hot men all paying attention to her. Clearly these are the boyfriends to which she is referring to. There is a fat woman who is clearly desired and desirable – and this is not played for jokes.
Personally I think Rebel Wilson had the script writer add a whole lot of material, because the movie did seem made just for her.
There is a queer woman character
Sadly not much more can be said about this, because the rest of it falls into the problematic section.
The girl gets the boy
So instead of the guy getting the girl in the end, even after being a massive arsehole and not having to change, the girl gets the guy, the guy who is decent, patient and kind. He calls her on her shit, she thinks about it, and realises that she was an arse, and effectively asks for forgiveness. This is how more movie romances should go.
The problematic stuff
Sadly there is a lot of this, most of it racial and sexual. Other bloggers have done a better job of pulling these together so I’m going to quote from them a fair bit, but add some of my comments too.
Racial and sexual stereotypes
This movie was sadly full of them, and it really didn’t have to be. The two Asian American characters were both stereotypes, but in different ways. From Nisha H at Racialicious:
Unfortunately, this was not the case with this movie. Far and away the film’s most offensive Asian character was Lilly (Hana Mae Lee). It’s not clear how Lilly got the stamp of approval to join the Barden Bellas, as her defining characteristic is that she cannot speak or sing above a whisper. She may have other personality traits, but it’s impossible to discern as we are unable to hear her 99 percent of the time.
The “quiet Asian who is too meek to talk normally” joke wasn’t funny initially and yet was still repeated. I went from rolling my eyes the first time it was brought it up to being legitimately upset by the fifth or so time Lilly says something and everyone’s response is, “What?! I can’t hear you!” Sometimes her character is just flat-out ignored because no one can hear her.
Maybe this wouldn’t have hit quite so hard if the only other Asian female were portrayed as a normal human being. Enter Kimmy Jin (Jinhee Joung), the Korean roommate of protagonist Becca (Anna Kendrick). If the Dragon Lady trope was watered down and embodied in an 18-year old college roommate-from-hell, it would take the form of Kimmy Jin. Though the movie only draws on the “cold and mean” aspects of the Dragon Lady, it draws on it pretty hard. Kimmy spends the majority of her screen time glowering at Becca, spurning any friendly advances she makes, and associating only with her brethren from the Korean Student Association.
That roommate was completely portrayed as being racist against anyone not of her race. From an insider’s perspective, yes, although sometimes it seems that way, many of us just feel more comfortable being around people raised in our culture. At one point in the movie, this Asian roommate legitimately walks in with her posse of Asian friends and says, “Oh look. The white girl is back.” This isn’t “Pocahontas.”
The movie had another chance at redemption when yet another Asian girl (“Oh my god! TWO Asians in one movie?! Unheard of. Also, is that a cool Indian guy I see?”) tried out for a capella. She had zero lines. No, I’m joking. She had lines, they just weren’t audible.
The queer woman in the movie was also the (sole) African American character in the movie. The trope that queer women are sexually aggressive, tied to the stereotype that African American women are sexually aggressive, meant that this character appeared to pounce on anything female that passed by her. It would have been great if she’d been queer and black and that was it. There was really no need to make her nearly sexually assault half the female cast of the movie. From Joseph Gentile at The Bilerico Project:
So, when Pitch Perfect addresses Cynthia Rose’s sexuality, it surprised me that film director James Moore couldn’t create a more nuanced character for Dean. Instead of stopping at depicting Cynthia Rose as perhaps a little too “touchy-feely,” Moore turns her loose upon the Bellas as a rampant sexual predator.
Once she’s caught on camera gazing a little too fondly at another Bellas’ bosom, it’s on for Cynthia Rose, and she can’t turn it off. Her idea of CPR after Fat Amy gets “shot” by a rival, all-male acapella group, and attempt to “shield” a Bella from another character’s projectile vomiting, are epic fails. Eventually, I felt a sense of creeping discomfort latch onto me as tightly as Cynthia Rose’s hands might latch onto the breasts of another Bella. Instead of landing punchlines, Cynthia Rose’s lesbianism launched into one.
The thin white woman who wears what would be described by some people as “skimpy” or “revealing” clothes confesses in the confession scene, that she has a lot of sex, to which Fat Amy replies, “Yeah. We know”, because clearly women who are comfortable wearing short skirts and low cut tops must have lots of sex – or something.
I enjoyed the movie, despite some pretty massive fails as far as stereotypes go. It could have been a brilliant movie if it had challenged the stereotypes, but instead it was just good.