Halfway during Pitch Perfect 2, the all-girl a capella group are cramped into a tiny tent at night in order to bond and ‘find their sound’.
As the camera pans across the girls lying next to each other, we get a single line from each of them. Anna Kendrick’s ‘too cool for this’ Beca goes ‘This is the worst!’ Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy makes a fat joke. The sex obsessed character says something about sex. The quiet Asian girl says something surreal. A new Guatemalan character says this is a luxury compared to when she was in Guatemala.
And Ester Dean, who plays the black lesbian character Cynthia Rose, says ‘I hope this night never ends!’
The sequel to Pitch Perfect, the a capella comedy sequel to the 2012 surprise hit, has been getting some negative press for being ‘racist’, ‘fatphobic’, ‘sexist’, and ‘homophobic’.
And that was part of the reason I went to go watch it at the weekend and see for myself, as well as a slight girl crush I have on Anna Kendrick.
The problem with the film isn’t because I was offended by it, it’s just that half of the jokes weren’t particularly funny.
When you’re sat there, watching it and a joke just bombs, it’s not surprising many people are quick to skip past ‘that joke didn’t land’ to ‘that offended me’.
Shock humor, especially to do with race, gender or sexuality, is troublesome. Not because it’s a little immature, but because it’s easy. But it has to be funny. Films like Anchorman and Bridesmaids as well as the musicals Book of Mormon and Avenue Q works because you laugh, and they’re written well. When you watch, you don’t immediately perceive prejudice of the behind-the-scenes creators.
This film was made by actress Elizabeth Banks, her debut as a director, and writer Kay Cannon, and this is her second screenplay after the first Pitch Perfect.
And you can see how they fell into some of the traps and fail to reach the right notes. The structure essentially copies the first. There’s an embarrassing gross-out incident at the beginning, the Barden Bellas have to recover, and then they come back to victory. You can see the attempt to go for inappropriate humor, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
The music is great but the script just goes for easy joke after easy joke. The characters are reduced to one-note stereotypes in order to get to another production number.
And while some of the jokes aren’t funny and the script needed more work, I don’t see how Banks or Cannon had the intention of making what some call a racist, sexist, homophobic film.
From what I know of them in interviews, Banks has worked on Modern Family and Cannon on 30 Rock. They were going for ‘equal opportunity offensive’. Comparisons have been made to Glee, that was another that was dogged for stereotypical characters being shoe-horned into a five minute plot that served to sell the soundtrack on iTunes.
When we talk about racism, sexism and homophobia, it is all about intent. I can’t help but wonder that because it is a film created by and starring women that they’re facing all this criticism. Will Ferrell recently released Get Hard, a prison comedy that involved more horrific instances of racism, gay panic and homophobia than I’ve seen in years. Critics panned it, for sure, but where’s the outrage from the audience?
It might be because there are so few female directors and writers making movies. If we had more of them in lead roles both behind and in front of the camera, there would be less pressure for every single film created by women to be absolutely perfect and loved by everyone.
It’s like with Black Widow. If we had as many female-led superhero franchises as the men get, would we be pinning our hopes and dreams for feminism in the genre on a single character?
The representations of women, LGBTIs and people of color are currently so limited that any film hoping to break some ground is going to be criticised. We’re so easily offended by any portrayal because we have to be. We can’t help but feel if movies get one shot at making a film like this, any minority should be nuanced and fully realised with their own emotional and narrative arc.
But that’s not what Pitch Perfect 2 was trying to do. You have a right to be offended by this film. But are the majority of the comedies that are going to be released this year going to be any better? Is a one-note portrayal an improvement than no representation at all?
Why not get offended instead (or as well) that the major studios refuse to make more films by and featuring women, films by and featuring LGBTIs, films by and featuring people of color? Put the pressure on them instead, and progress might be made.