Aca-Wut? Why I think Pitch Perfect 2 off-key

It had been a long week and we were only as far as Wednesday, so my husband being his lovely self-conceded to watching something that we’d put in our ‘guilty pleasure’ bracket; Pitch Perfect (the original, we are a bit behind on what’s cool, I’m afraid.) The rationale for this, in part, was that having seen the first, we could then treat ourselves to a night out at the new cinema up the road to go and check out the second one; mildly diverting entertainment which involves little thinking was definitely the key to the operation. And additionally, I’m a fan of this type of thing, already being well-acquainted with Glee and HSM.

The original Pitch Perfect has all of the ingredients I need for a ‘non-thinky’ movie: the multiple mashups, the fast pace, a reasonable love interest and a soaring sense of ambition... I too, ended up (against my better judgement) wanting to be a Barden Bella, not just anyone, though, I wanted to be like Beca (automatically cool due to the kooky spelling of her already shortened name.) I wanted to be the girl who shuffles in awkwardly as a misfit (whose passion for dance tracks seem incongruous with her almost grungy dress sense) and magically transform not only a dying a capella group, but also seems to be able to revolutionise music forever! Ok, it’s all a bit far-fetched, but it does make one want to aspire to do something with their lives rather than taking part in our mundane, ordinary existence which has no entrance music, flashing lights and no sing-offs in sight. At least for a couple of hours before reality sets in. The cathartic nature of Pitch Perfect really helped me that Wednesday, and I was all up for that feeling again as I went to see the second instalment. I thought I knew what I was getting. I thought they had the winning formula, but something was out of kilter this time.

I’ve been a little sceptical about Rebel Wilson and her fame. Joking about size can be dangerous and so can being type-cast. However, the jokes directed at Fat Amy in the first movie were genuinely quite funny and had the ‘every-girl’ effect, telling us that we should be body-con in all situations. We were laughing at the sort of audacity that we should have in life and clearly don’t. Laughing because it is a message that we are so unaccustomed to in the media and that kind of excites us and freaks us out, so we laugh. And it is clear that Rebel Wilson is completely self-aware and in control of her place in the film industry. I was really looking forward to seeing Pitch Perfect 2 to get more of the same tonic that makes me feel like my muffin top is kind of ok, really. But I suppose, there is always the problem of the ‘tricky second album’...

I felt a little...let down by the portrayal of Fat Amy in the second film (I was never that okay with the name, as if that’s all she could be boiled down to...) who ended up being a bit of a sad little character by the end; totally not ball-busting, ass-kicking Amy that we saw previously. The second helping of Fat Amy really made me feel bad for her and for women, too. Not only is Amy the laughing stock of the nation as her obesity sees her split her costume, revealing her vagina to the world in a rather acrobatic manner, she is doing it to none other than Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball. Now this, I admit, did provide some fun physical humour, but when added to other events that happen to Amy, I really felt that she had become diluted as a character towards the end: she ends up with the biggest prick in the show, Bumper, embarrassingly pleading for him to come back to her when she, rightly so, decides to ditch him. Additionally, and most upsettingly, Amy is the only ‘bella’ sat around the campfire as the girls plan their futures after college who has no idea about where she is headed. She has no prospects as she is the archetypal rotund jester, of the group who cannot be believed to have a career in the future. I couldn’t help but feel a little let down by my gal’s portrayal.

And Beca, my hero – what a bloody let down she turns out to be! Suddenly, as the movie starts, she’s not so kooky and awkward, but strutting into the frame looking all super-hot in her school-girl style tartan skirt (reminiscent of Neve Campbell in The Craft and that moment in Clueless where Tye is suddenly popular after her near-death experience at the mall) and her ‘edgy’ scaffold piercing. Beca’s depiction in the film gives us such a negative message: forsake all your girls to get ahead in your career and then, when lacking inspiration, steal from a new vulnerable young Bella, pretending that you are really both going to get equal credit for a job well done when really you are the only one reaping the benefits. In addition to that, it is totally fine to blow hot and cold with a guy that does nothing but support you through your ‘struggle’ to make it in the music industry. Personally, I really liked the old Beca that had integrity, passion and ambition (the one who, in reality, should probably have puked at the idea of joining the Barden Bellas in the first place).

It isn’t just the treatment of women that get me hot under the collar with this film. Racist depictions of ethnicity in the film were, quite literally, mouth-droppingly inappropriate. We are introduced to a new Guatemalan character who doesn’t really utter much apart from the odd stereotyped and outmoded phrase that would be quite at home in Mind Your Language, your Nan’s nursing home or Jim Davidson’s set. The cinema that I was in responded with silent wincing through all of those jarring moments, which speaks volumes. Additionally, Das Sound Machine, whilst totally Euro-chic, were an irritating short-cut with their patent leather outfits, thick accents and freakish efficiency. I thought that this was a really lazy way to get laughs.

Finally, the depiction of the LGBT community, through the character Cynthia-Rose was really uncalled for. I have obviously no problem with seeing a lesbian character on screen, in fact, I celebrate that whole-heartedly. But why, oh why, in comedy is sexuality such a laughing matter? The moments where Cynthia-Rose would get caught touching another woman or when she was mocked for being ‘tomboyish’ just didn’t sit right with me – the only function of her sexuality being disclosed, it seemed, was to provide another quick gag, helping me to choke once more on my Tango Ice Slushie.

So, what is it with stereotyping in comedy? It isn’t just Pitch Perfect, but unfortunately that film just brought the issue back into my consciousness. How about The Simpsons and Team America, for instance? What about Little Britain? Mary Hirsch, Humorist, states that, “Humor is a rubber sword – it allows you to make a point without drawing blood.” If only this seemed to be the case. Sadly, in this film I just didn’t see the point. Perhaps it can be just a bit of fun. We turn up, let the insults bounce around and laugh because it isn’t us, we aren’t accountable. We didn’t say it, so we play no part in it, right? But then, where does this banterous humour become hurtful? In the playground, in the workplace, at home? The more we see these false, trivial representations of reality, surely the more that we take them on and start to play our part in the fabrication that is socialisation. It is time that the media was held accountable for the responsibility it has in shaping our perceptions of our bodies, sexuality, race and gender. 

There is a way to use stereotypes, exemplified in films such as Mean Girls or The Breakfast Club, which both present positive ideas about the need for change in this area. A nuance of The Breakfast Club was tenuously used to fuse Beca and Jesse’s relationship together and spurred on Beca to stop being selfish and judgemental about the futures of those around her but despite the cry of ‘Don’t you forget about me’ in the final performance by the Bellas, the moral intention of The Breakfast Club just didn’t seem to have the same power in Pitch Perfect. What was almost a positive moment at the end with a much more promising stripped-back genuine performance by Bellas old and new, centred on community and kinship, was completely offset by another ‘hilarious’ blunder by Fat Amy sledging down her stairs at the end of the second movie. Perhaps we should change our film classification system to issue ratings based on how offensive these depictions can be as already suggested by Sweden in relation to sexism in video games. I am not saying that we need censorship, or that we need to eradicate stereotypes, but we need to be more mindful of the knock-on effect of what might just seem like a harmless, highly lucrative, laugh.