I just returned from seeing Pitch Perfect 2 with my 19 year old daughter. We both enjoyed it thoroughly. I, however, am in the minority in my social media feeds. The movie is being soundly criticized for being not funny enough, not genuine enough, not interesting enough. And those are just the nots. It’s also taking heat for its overproduced musical numbers, its flat portrayal of ethnic stereotypes, and for not giving Anna Kendrick enough room to charm.
I don’t care. In fact, I see much of the same criticism of the film as being like that so often directed at romance. In review after review, movie critics see the flaws–which bedevil so many major mainstream films (almost all of which are hyper-violent and/or animated)–and not the pretty fabulous accomplishments.
First of all, the gender-bias in hiring in Hollywood is so bad that the industry is currently being investigated by the ACLU. Only seven percent of the 250 highest grossing films have been made by women. So to have this movie, which is expected to be a huge summer hit and has been marketed as such, be directed by Elizabeth Banks is a win. (Her video interview with The Independent is great.)
Secondly, this movie has a decidedly female gaze. This term has come up lately both here at AAR and on many an other site when discussing the difference between the ways sex, women, and rape are portrayed on Game of Thrones as opposed to how they are on Outlander. In Pitch Perfect 2, there is little interest–with the exception of the expected low-brow humor provided by Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy–in depicting the young women in the film in a way that would, first and foremost, draw in the coveted American male demographic. As AO Scott said in his New York Times review of the film:
It’s all very cute, and kind of beside the point. The glory of “Pitch Perfect” is that it’s devoted, above all, to the friendship and shared ambition of young women, and that it finds plenty of room within that premise for raunchiness, ridiculousness and warmth. The casual busyness of the plots does not distract from the essence of the movie, which is the pleasure and occasional stress of hanging out with like-minded girlfriends as you ease your way toward adulthood. Dudes are nice to have around, but the pursuit of them is a whole lot less than the meaning of life.
“Pitch Perfect 2” is not as barbed as “Girls” or as anarchic as “Broad City” (it’s also studiously PG-13), but it lives in their neighborhood — or maybe a nearby suburb. And its arrival is another sign of the extent to which feminism is reshaping the landscape of American comedy, and not a moment too soon.
Thirdly, the film reflects the kind of world many many women would like to have as true. It’s a realm where the fat girl is alluring, the butch lesbian plans for marriage, boyfriends are always supportive of their girlfriends’ dreams and jobs, moms love their daughters and can still be their friends in a fairly sane way, men acknowledge their fears, and being kind and deeply connected to the women in your world pays off. Is it unrealistic? Who cares? It’s a summer blockbuster, for gods sake. Is it a vision I hope will have more truth for my daughter’s generation than it has for mine? Absolutely.
I guess I’m tired of defending pop culture, as done by or for women. Taylor Swift just made music industry history at age 25 and comment thread after comment thread suggest she has breast implants and no talent. The world’s big papers rarely review Nora Roberts–unlike male genre authors–and yet her “books have spent a total of 1027 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list…that’s equivalent to over 19 consecutive years of weekly bestsellers.” Whether you like the 50 Shades books or not, they are an extraordinary publishing accomplishment.
So, yes, I liked Pitch Perfect 2. (And I’m thinking it has the Obamas’ blessing as well–if you’ve seen it, you’ll know why I make that claim.) If you didn’t, that’s just fine. Taste is a preference, not a virtue.