Monday, May 25, 2015

Series - Frenemies Talk Film: #1 ("Pitch Perfect 2")

Frenemies Talk Film #1: Pitch Perfect 2

Hey everyone!  I’m Jaime, and you might recognize me from my occasional guest posts, best friendship with your amazing leader Jenn, or from my recaps of Parks and Rec’s final season.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, my greatest passion in life isn’t Ben Wyatt’s beautiful elf-like body, or One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I’m a huge film buff, and the beginning of summer means one thing: a buttload of amazing movies are coming out soon.  Well, okay, maybe they’re not all amazing, but they’re all at least worth seeing and discussing.

I’m kind of a snob when it comes to talking about film, though.  I minored in film studies, and throughout my time as an undergrad, I pretty much went to one person to talk about what movie we’d gone to see that week: my worst enemy Chelsea, bane of my existence, soon to be known as the number one name on the list of my murder victims.  She’s terrible, but, I’m reluctant to admit, she knows her stuff when it comes to movies, both as an aficionado and as a fan.  So we’re going to spend the summer discussing movies here on Just About Write – most of our posts will probably be focused on a new movie we’ve both seen, but knowing us, we’ll probably have a few discussions about various film critiques and theory.  Because we love to be pretentious.

We’re going to kick off Frenemies Talk Film with the first of the high profile summer movies being released this year: Pitch Perfect 2.

(Before we continue, I need to clear something up.  My greatest passion is One Direction’s evolving musical sound.  I claimed otherwise for the sake of a solid introduction but I couldn’t let that lie continue.)

JAIME: So Pitch Perfect.  It's gotten some mixed reviews, and I can definitely see some flaws with its plot and characters, but like, who even cares?  I'm here to have fun and to see some synchronized lady-singing, and it delivered.  I wouldn't say this movie had as clear of an arc as the first one; we're not watching Beca (or any other character) move from Point A to Point B, but they're becoming more evolved versions of themselves.  There were already a ton of notable differences that show how they've grown in the three years since Pitch Perfect, so I think that did a lot of work in setting up everyone's storylines.  We're not necessarily seeing how all these conflicts began (Beca wanting to move away from the Bellas, Chloe refusing to move on, Amy hiding her feelings for Bumper, etc.), but in a way, that was better.  There was already so much going on in this movie that it didn't really have time to waste; it needed to jump right in and get moving.

CHELSEA: I mean sure, it had its problems but it's not trying to be the first one and establish all these characters. It's trying to be more 30 Rock with its ridiculous antics. We don't need them to hold our hands through all the "character development" because we already know these people & we just want to hangout with them now.

And I thought it was awesome that we weren't being led through each step of their journeys.  Because how many movies are there with male lead characters who we don't really get to know?  Where people say, "Well, it's enough to judge them based on their actions and what we see."  It's the same thing here - we get to see these awesome women and learn who they are based solely on how they react to this situation.  

And, like, it was hilarious.  I was crying with laughter the whole time, and if that doesn't make a good movie, I don't know what does.

Exactly. Like, every dude comedy does it so the ladies shouldn't have to coddle you. And it's the funniest movie I've seen since like 22 Jump Street so it's doing something right.

So what did you think of it as a sequel?  It was interesting because you could definitely feel the effects of the first one becoming a cult hit.  I mean, for one thing, when I saw the first film in theatres, it was almost empty.  My theatre for Pitch Perfect 2 was packed.  And then you had a lot of callbacks and attention placed on things people loved about the first one, like Fat Amy and Bumper, etc.

I was pretty surprised at how little Jesse was in the movie.  I would have liked more, but at the same time, I'm never gonna be mad about getting an all-female lead cast.  Especially because then not throwing in unnecessary drama for Beca and Jesse meant that there was room to see Emily/Benji (which was adorable) and Bumper/Amy develop.  Plus I think a big reason Jesse was so prominent in the first one was because they were kind of using Skylar Astin's talent and experience to help legitimize the whole thing.  This time around, they didn't need that, so they were free to put the focus where it belongs: on the Bellas.

I think it worked well as a sequel. It took the things that drew in the fans and gave them more of it. I think that's why there was less Jesse in this one, cause fans really wanted to see more of the lady adventures and it has a huge gay audience. And they had to give Rebel Wilson a bigger storyline since she was the breakout star of the first film. Same with Hailee Steinfeld since she's probably going to be leading this franchise should they make more and because she's an Academy Award nominated person. True Grit was a huge hit and they want to capitalize on her fanbase.

Yeah, I agree.  And by having Emily be a songwriter, and with "Flashlight" and how the Bellas used it, it opens them up in future films to stick less to a formula and really have freedom to do whatever they want.  Like, they got themselves out from under the pressure of trying to emulate the first one.

I want to talk about Pitch Perfect 2 as a summer movie, because it's kind of an interesting choice.  It's not even just a summer movie, it's one of the first summer movies this year.  Obviously that implies an attempt to have a wide appeal.  What do you think about that?  How does Pitch Perfect 2 stack up against all the other summer blockbusters we're going to see?  

It was such a simple thing to do making her a songwriter but it really did open a lot of doors for future sequels. Emily is essentially in charge of the Bellas now and is forging a career with Beca as her producer. I'm interested in seeing where they will go next with this and how they will bring the group back together.

I just remember hearing that it was opening in May & being worried. Now mind you, this was like 2013 me when the box office blockbusters weren't starting to fail. I think it was a smart counter programming move because it's become so obvious over the last couple of years that people have action film fatigue and smaller films with a follow like TFIOS last year and now Pitch Perfect bring a young female demographic that has been largely ignored. People are tired of the same old dude bro films and they are slowly realizing that they can make an insane amount of money with a smaller investment. Like, look at Mad Max. Cost $150 million to make and that doesn't include the marketing costs.  $45 million opening weekend, which is not a great start to recouping the budget.  All of their marketing was geared towards the typical male audience but then those people that did leave the film have nothing but wonderful things to say about its feminist message. Maybe if you tried to go after that audience and embrace them then you would have made more money. Learn from the mistakes Edge of Tomorrow made last year and don't be afraid to label your film a feminist and don't bury the fact in your marketing.

If you want me to see your movie then sell it to me. Pitch Perfect, TFIOS, and Maleficent on the other hand completely embraced their female audience and femininity. They weren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and show well developed female characters. I saw the movie with my stepdad at his suggestion because we saw the first one together and he loved it. And there were just as many guys as I did girls in the theater during Pitch Perfect. I think Pitch Perfect is going to be one of the real highlights this summer because not only is it breaking down the barriers in the industry that I one day hope to be a part of but it's just a really hilarious FILM. Not a female film, just a film. There are very few other movies that I'm actually looking forward to this summer because they all look like more of the same old stuff.

What you said about the decline of summer blockbusters made me think - summer is obviously known for its action movies, but I think the other big genre that gets tons of attention during the summer is comedy.  Specifically, comedies geared toward dudes.  You have things like Pineapple Express, Neighbors, This is the End, all released during the summer and all marketed toward men.  And then of course you have movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat, which were marketed toward women and were successful, but it seems like there's still a divide.  Yes, Bridesmaids was a huge hit, but it was also very much considered a movie for women.  I mean, there's nothing about the movie itself that men wouldn't like, but because the lead characters are women, then the group that would most want to see this movie are automatically women.  

Pitch Perfect, I think, has mostly avoided that "for women!  This is a movie about women!  Come see it, women!" stamp.  It's there to some extent, of course, but I think it's been relatively free to be unapologetically about strong women (with the tagline "we're back pitches," which appeals to a female audience without limiting the audience to ONLY women).  Most of the discussions about Bridesmaids and The Heat and other films in that vein came up after they were released - after they were successful, and thus worth talking about.  But Pitch Perfect 2 had tons of promo behind it, and tons of people talking about their excitement for it and what the film meant, even before it was released.  It's probably too premature to say that it's a sign that attitudes are changing when it comes to female-led films; it could be just as likely that it's because Pitch Perfect has large crossover appeal, and so because men are interested in it, then men are starting conversations about it.  But it feels like a huge step in the right direction, judging by its box office performance and the way audiences are responding.

I think what helped it steer clear of that "female film!" title was the fact that it was a sequel. The first one had that stigma (I wrote a 30 page paper about it for crying out loud) but because it became popular through word of mouth and breaking HBO movie records, it had that gender crossover. So a sequel comes and it appeals to all genders in its marketing. And we can't forget that while it does have so many women in the cast, it also has multiple male characters that help drive the story. Jesse, Bumper, Benji, and other supporting male characters like Donald and Flula Borg's character that are important to the story.

And what's awesome about Jesse, Bumper, and Benji's roles is that they were basically just love interests.  They were there to help the heroes realize what they wanted, and propelled them along their journey.  In the first film, you had a little more with Benji and Jesse's friendship, and the dynamics of the Treblemakers were relevant since they were the Bellas' rivals, but in the sequel, they didn't have storylines of their own, really.  I don't think there were any scenes in this movie where Beca, Emily, or Amy didn't appear - you had the scenes with Gail and John, but I think that's it.  And still, you had Gail.  I don't think there were any scenes without a female character, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of any other movie that's come out recently that can say the same.

I really need to rewatch this movie. Mostly to analyze the musical numbers but also to really look at some of the things we've talked about. Hell, there were cuts to Emily during the trebles one and only big musical number. I don't think the film passes the reverse Bechdel test.

I was thinking about that, and I don't think it does.  Maaaayyyybe the moment when Bumper talks about how he's close to being put on a shortlist for The Voice?  But otherwise, I think every other moment he had, as well as Jesse and Benji, was supporting Amy's storyline.

And the notion of a "strong female character," and having more powerful and believable female roles in film, has been so prevalent lately, but I think Pitch Perfect took a few steps beyond that.  They didn't just take the approach everyone should take when writing great female characters (that is, simply to write a great character and make her female); this movie was very much set up like regular movies for male audiences are set up.  Because the thing is, movies made for and targeted at women are pretty much immediately considered chick flicks.  No matter what.  An action-comedy like The Heat?  Chick flick.  A romance?  Chick flick.  No matter what.  Whereas "regular" movies, the ones that don't get labeled a chick flick, are still unquestioningly for men.  And many of them will be about the journey of a male character, who is guided and inspired by women, but ultimately it's all about his growth.

Here, it's completely flipped.  It is all about these women.  You care about the men, sure, but not on the basis of what's presented here - you care about them because of their storylines from the first movie.  Someone who hadn't seen the first one and wandered into the theatre to see Pitch Perfect 2 wouldn't care about Beca and Jesse, or about Benji falling in love.  Because the framework for those relationships was already built; this movie isn't about the girls falling in love.  Even Amy, who realizes she's in love with Bumper, seems to have done the legwork on that prior to the events of this film; it's implied that they've been seeing each other casually since the events of the first movie.  She fell in love with him a while ago; she just happens to realize it and get around to telling him in this movie.  Otherwise, the motivation of every character is abundantly clear from the first scene: make up for the mistake that was made, and show the world how they can be better.  There's literally no way to argue that this movie is a chick flick because it operates exactly how most movies (that are made for men) operate.

I don't think it does since he didn't talk about it for more than a minute with a male character. It was just a comment in passing. And like yes to all the rest. Nothing about this is a chick flick. It's like calling The Hangover a chick flick cause each film features a wedding. No, it's about these people fixing a problem.

Because, as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler so wisely said, bitches get stuff done.

What did you all think of Pitch Perfect 2?  What other summer movies are you excited to see?  And please, if you have any movies (or really any questions you’d like us to answer, or anything you want to see discussed), let us know!  The best part of the crop of summer movies, after all, is sharing in the experience with other people.  Chelsea and I will see you all soon (unless one of us snaps and murders the other)!


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