I laughed more frequently than I breathed during Pitch Perfect 2. Director Elizabeth Bank’s sequel to the A Capella musical Pitch Perfect focused heavily on silliness with lines like, “I don’t want your armpit confidence” and insults like “your sweat smells like cinnamon.”
In many ways this film was triumphant. It followed many female characters in A Capella group The Barden Bellas in plot-lines that varied from fitting into a new group to the struggles of defining oneself after college. In the process the female characters did not tear each other down, or even make ad-hominem attacks toward their cinnamon-smelling German rivals Das Sound Machine. Instead, they built one another up time and time again , supporting each Bella in their various trials and adventures: Beca’s DJing career, Fat Amy’s relationship, and Chloe’s great unknown after college. That is something special to see on the screen. However, can this film about women remain special if it fails in other realms? Let’s dissect.
Everyone’s sense of humor is different and Pitch Perfect 2 delivered jokes for a truly varied audience. There was physical humor when magician Benji tried to disappear behind a magic smoke cloud that was a mere wisp, obviously too small to cover him. People who love loud in your face humor will enjoy Fat Amy’s continued disregard for other’s opinions. She’d spout comments like “I know what they’re thinking [about team America]. Why is the hottest one Australian?” Even people with a dryer sense of humor will enjoy when the leader of Das Sound Machine was trying to describe Beca as a small magical creature. Her word of choice was not a dainty one like a fairy, pixie, or elf, but instead “troll.”
At times, the movie went deeper, poking fun at real issues like immigration policy, and the problematic idea of “predatory lesbians.” Personally, even one instance of this kind of joke makes me squirm, as humor targeting a group or characterizing a type of diverse people in a certain narrow way has never appealed to me. I realize for many others that is not the case. The issue here, however, wasn’t the existence of such jokes, but rather the quantity.
Flo, a Guatamalan student added to the Bellas, had at least one line in each scene. This could have been a great moment in inclusion, bringing an actual diverse cast to the screen, however there was nothing diverse about Flo. Her entire character development was her immigration status and it was joked about – often. While one joke makes me uncomfortable, a chain of monotonous jokes like these should make anyone uncomfortable.
Cynthia Rose, a black lesbian character, brought similar quantity issues with her jokes. While this character was allowed to have a gambling problem and a personality in the first film, in this film she was solely the black lesbian. She spoke very infrequently, and when she did, that was the entire content of her speech. A black lesbian character should be allowed to talk about being a black lesbian. However, quantity is an issue here if being a black lesbian is the only thing that she is allowed to talk about.
Can we count any film as a feminist win if it fails to break from basic stereotyping? The basic premise of feminism is equality, not problematic disparities in quantity. There are other names for that.