Part 2: “Bachelorette” available here.
Part 3: “Bridesmaids” available here.
Happy new year! As you can probably see, I’ve made a few changes around here over the break. Firstly, I got a new theme. You can tell because now the can be bitter up there ^^ is all in capital letters. Technology. Secondly, I put some featured posts over there >>, which represent some of my most popular/shared, so please check them out if you haven’t already. And finally, I got myself a Facebook page, which you should “like” (and also just like, generally) so it is easier to get your weekly dose of bitterness. I am still in the process of linking to all the old posts but I think it is coming together nicely! I believe there is a widget over there somewhere >> too, if that’s easier for you to click (is that more or less lazy? I don’t even know!).
Last weekend, I finally got a chance to watch Pitch Perfect. It’s been kind of talked up over here in Australia because it features “our” latest Hollywood success story, Rebel Wilson (pictured below). I was surprised to find that I liked it a lot, probably due in no small part to the cheeky “Tasmanian” blonde (she’s from Sydney in real life). For me, not having actually seen any of her work up until Bridesmaids was no barrier to sudden nationalistic pride in her, kind of like how most Aussies felt when Gotye got #1 in the U.S., and so it seemed perfect to dedicate the three posts up to Australia Day to analysis of some of her biggest hits. (Warning: actual Rebel Wilson content may vary.)
Pitch Perfect is a romantic comedy that revolves around an inter-college a capella choir competition, primarily focusing on the rivalry between the single-sex groups at fictional Barden University. These groups are the all-male Treblemakers, and the female Bellas. At the start of the film, the Treblemakers have taken out the most recent trophy, while the Bellas are recovering from a catastrophic performance wherein choir captain Aubrey (Anna Camp) vomited all over the audience.
It is this set-up that initially clues a feminist audience into the fact that the next 90 minutes will not be all romcom-my business-as-usual, and I would argue, the film rarely fails to live up to this promise. Who knew that feminist comedy could be so accessible? Or catchy?
The Bellas’ road to (spoilers) victory
More spoilers below. As usual.
I’ll start with what I consider to be one of those rare failures. Aubrey is proud that the Bellas have always sung songs made famous by female artists. It is a strategy that has served them well in the past, and one that Aubrey has no intention of abandoning. Additionally, Aubrey bans fraternisation with the Treblemakers, on the basis that “the Trebles don’t respect us, and if we let them penetrate us, we are giving them our power”. However, the Bellas are unable to win the trophy until they take the advice of Treble-desiring Beca, who stops the show with “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, popularised by the all-male group Simple Minds. I couldn’t help but take away that their victory was an allegory for real-world Western feminism, particularly the shift from second to third wave. While I appreciate (and of course, agree with) the message that both men and women are key to the success of feminism (in contrast to a “battle of the sexes”), I’m not convinced that the Bellas had to lose their pride in female-made music (and implicitly, their femaleness) in order to achieve success. Nor do I see the flaw in Aubrey’s argument that respect should form the basis of healthy sexual relations, which is instead used in the film to highlight her outmoded ideology.
That aside, the Bellas’ victory is shown to be a product of the benefits of feminism. For example, the Bellas ditch their sexualised “stewardess” uniforms for clothes they feel more comfortable in, and they are only able to come together successfully after a female bonding session, demonstrating the power of sisterhood over bitchiness and competition.
I also admire that most of the Bellas are portrayed to subvert one or more stereotypes. Most obviously, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) reclaims the word for herself, and is shown to be sexual and sexually attractive to others (including her many boyfriends).
As Fat Amy points out, one of the 10 Bellas is statistically likely to be a lesbian. This proves to be Cynthia, a butch-y black woman. While she first appears to be a token character, Cynthia proves to be integral to the group’s singing success, is given further emotional depth in the form of a gambling addiction and breaks a mainstream taboo in that she is allowed to openly ogle and fondle other women in the group. Pleasingly, this is not seen as overly threatening by the group, and she even gains a love interest in the abovementioned bonding scene (suck it, Sex & the City).
More Bellas awesomeness:
- Stacie refers to her vagina as “a hunter”. I love this role reversal, although I don’t know if I like that she calls it a “he”. I feel this might rob her of some of her sexual agency as a woman, but on the other hand, I like that a pussy can be male. Thoughts?
- Chloe (Brittany Snow) is “pretty confident about all of this”. Love her positive body image. (Don’t love that they obviously cut her lesbian storyline though!)
- Lilly, the Japanese Bella, takes the stereotype of the submissive Oriental and turns her into a soft-spoken badass (“I light fires to feel joy”)
- The male love interest rejects Beca’s advances when she appears at his dorm room, bucking the stereotype that men will shag anything that asks. Ultimately, she is forced to make the grand gesture to win him back (contrast with, oh, every other romcom), which additionally serves to highlight female power.
A special mention should also go to Elizabeth Banks, whom I love and who serves as producer on the film. I’ve been following her on Twitter and she is pretty much one of the most lovely, smart, funny people ever. As a capella competition commentator Gail, she not only manages to inject her own gender role-reversing, seamy commentary (“I’m gonna have to excuse myself to freshen up the downtown!”) but at the climax, smacks down her male chauvinist co-host (“Well, you’re a misogynist at heart”), proving the film’s feminist intentions beyond a shadow of a doubt. A ca-pow!
RESULT: Feminist! Please pay money to see this film.
Up next: Rebel Wilson Pride Special, Pt 2: ‘Bachelorette’
P.S. The 56th Down Under Feminists Carnival has just come out at Zero at the Bone. It is full of wonderful and thought-provoking AU/NZ feminist writing from the month of December, as well as… uh… some stuff I wrote. You should go to there.
P.P.S. A huge thanks to Liz who has made most of these points before, and to Bec who showed the film to me!