03 January 2016

+JMJ+

Twelve Things about Pitch Perfect 2

12. "AVERT YOUR EYES!" There must have been a hundred classier ways to open this movie . . . but then again, there's no better way to tell the audience that they're watching a Girl Grrrl Power movie than (Get your Secret Decoder Rings out) to shove female genitalia in their faces.

Note that the whole line is:
"Avert your eyes or take it all in!"

11. There are two other movies you need to see to put Pitch Perfect 2 in context. They are the first Pitch Perfect, which introduces most of the main characters, and Mad Max: Fury Road, which came out the same week as this movie and came a distant second to it at the box office.

It apparently peeved a lot of people off that the "woman's movie" of the month was not going to be the one with a "kick-ass" "strong woman" saving the day in a misogynist dystopia, but the one with cute college girls in dresses strengthening their sisterhood and realising their musical dreams. I myself haven't seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet--which makes me one of the female movie lovers who overwhelmingly chose the Barton Bellas over Imperator Furiosa! LOL! But I'll get to the other eventually, for sure. In the meantime, it's enough for me to point out that girls can definitely "kick ass" through music and fashion.

10. The music part is self-explanatory: our heroines are a competitive a cappella group, after all. As for the fashion, here's a visual . . .


I guess debutante director Elizabeth Banks didn't want to go for the cliched head-on "squad shot," which is why it is so hard to find a decent image of all the Bellas' outfits at once. But I enjoyed the way she did film this sequence, with the girls joining the group at different points. It was both very natural . . . and quite reminiscent of flowers being picked up by a breeze. They don't quite have the timeless style of Clueless (See my Twelve Things with a picture of the outfits!), but I do respect the effort!

9. Yet will anyone be dressing like the Bellas any time soon? Probably not. And if you do run into a girl whose outfit makes her look like she'd fit right into their squad, they likely wouldn't have been her primary influence. Pitch Perfect 2 is kind of a bubble: nothing in it will be making much of a mark on the real world. A funny irony given that one of its themes is life after graduation--that is, life outside of that other bubble that is modern uni.

8. On the other hand, there is one pretty funny moment which could only have been brought to us by filmmakers who understood that they were playing with Barbie dolls rather than telling stories about real girls. #notthattheresanythingwrongwiththat


Apparently, it's okay to like things that "set women back" as long you like them ironically.

7. Even the musical parts, which you'd expect to be really universal, are very bubbly in that limited sense. The highly-entertaining "riff off," with songs that everyone in the audience would be able to sing along to, is set in the context of a super-exclusive underground party hosted by an eccentric millionaire a cappella fan.


As fun as it all is, it also makes a cappella look like some weird subculture rather than something the average viewer might want to get into. And well, maybe that is exactly what a cappella is. (LOL!) But in that case, how did it ever merit inclusion in not one, but two big-budget Hollywood movies? The secret of its appeal seems lost on the very people bringing it to our attention.

6. And no, I do not get the Green Bay Packers jokes at all.

5. For a self-constricted movie, Pitch Perfect 2 has got surprising ambition. Having won the USA's national a cappella championship in the first movie, the Bellas can only top that by winning an international competition. And the one created for the world of this bubble sounds oddly familiar . . .

Male announcer: (laughing) "No American team has ever won!"
Female announcer: (laughing) "That's because they hate us!"

Oh, gosh, it's Eurovision, isn't it? Yanks have always wanted a piece of Eurovision and just can't hide it any longer. Yet at the same time, they totally understand that if they ever got in, Russia would get a break from being the token bad guy.

4. Interestingly, the villains here are the Germans--specifically an a cappella group that calls itself Das Soundmachine. (Die Soundmaschine? Die Klangmaschine?) The joke is that their approach to music is similar to an engineer's approach to a Volkswagen, which makes them the perfect antithesis to the ragtag Bellas, who harmonise not just their vocals but every member's individual style.


Never mind that the real "sound machines" of pop music are the Swedes. The Germans are here for the tired old stereotype, and it's fitting when you recall that the supposedly individualistic Bellas are all mostly tired old stereotypes themselves.

3. The journey to the a cappella world championship finale gives the plot a sure, if cliched direction and the theme of life after graduation makes a challenging counterpoint to it. By "challenging," I guess I mean discordant. I can't think of any similar movies (usually sports-themed) in which the glory of a future victory is overshadowed by the uncertainty of the future after the victory. Not that it couldn't be done; it would just turn an underdog story into something very different. Pitch Perfect 2 wants to remain an underdog story and so wrestles with itself every step of the way.

It doesn't help that the three Bellas who are allowed to transcend their stereotypes have very different character arcs. Now, as anyone knows who has ever kept in touch with people who were close friends in uni, we often do choose paths tangent to those of our friends. But what the story gains in realism it loses in cohesiveness; and as it rations out its resources to three different subplots, each of them ends up with a very superficial minimum.

2. In fairness, one minimum had some depth. I was pleasantly surprised by the character of the music producer, who owns the company for which one of our protagonists interns. He gives her a better glimpse of the real world than anything else in the entire movie.

He is especially interesting, if you recall the protagonist's relationship with her father in the first Pitch Perfect. The producer steps into pretty much the same role, but instead of drawing her resentment, he earns her respect.

1. Final slightly spoilery point, so get your Secret Decoder Rings ready again . . . I don't know what was more disappointing about the world championship finale: not getting to hear any of the other a cappella groups sing (especially after interviews in which Banks stressed the importance of casting real groups that could sing in different languages) . . . or watching the Bellas win with a Deus ex machina. If you've seen Pitch Perfect 2, what do you think of the finale?


Image Sources: a) Pitch Perfect 2 poster, b) Bellas' dresses

4 comments:

Brandon said...

The first one I had found unexpectedly funny, but didn't intend on watching the second at all until you published this post!

I actually liked the finale; where I think the movie falls down is in the preparation for it -- which is why, I suppose, it comes across as a bit Deus ex machina.

One error in my view was devoting so much time to the riff-off. It couldn't really contribute much that was new to the storyline or characters, and it wasted time that could have set up things that were a great deal more important. You get these riff-off type spectacles in this kind of movie all the time, whether the excuse for the spectacle is cheerleading, marching band, or a capella, so it's a basic genre convention; but this is precisely the time when they needed to be more adventurous and move away from the standard convention to something else.

I find it rather funny, though, that Das Soundmachine sings "Uprising", an anti-authoritarian, anti-corporate anthem, while doing so at a corporate event and with fashion and style that in any other artistic context would be used to suggest fascism. This is a complication with a capella, I think, that neither movie ever really explores: a capella is about the sound, not the message, but it deals with a medium that puts an immense amount of emphasis on message.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

You're right that the finale wasn't set up or foreshadowed very well. But even if it were, I'd still be a bit peeved that they got to pull a last-minute stunt like that! LOL!

I much prefer the riff-off in the first movie, which isn't just a cappella for its own sake, but also develops Becca's character and her relationships with the rest of the Bellas and with the boy who eventually becomes her boyfriend. I like to think they could have done similar "multi-tasking" with the one in the sequel, but I guess they just wanted to have a good time!

Did you ever watch the TV series Glee? It got weaker and weaker over time, story-wise and character-wise . . . and started laying the ideology on with a trowel after a point . . . but I'd say what really did it in was when the characters started singing for the sake of singing and the songs were more closely related to the Top 40 than to what was actually going on in their lives.

Brandon said...

I have not watched a single episode of Glee; it just never sounded interesting to me.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

The premise definitely had potential (Don't teenagers find songs that perfectly encapsulate their lives all the time?), but I can safely assure you that you missed very little!