Here’s the thing: I want to like Pitch Perfect. The first one, at least. There is, on the surface, nothing wrong with it. Happy escapism for women, majority female cast, it’s fine. Fun, even. Mostly. The franchise has an uncomfortable tendency toward racist humor that makes the later entries unwatchable, and even the first one is not exempt. This is not about that, if only because other people far more eloquent than I have already discussed this subject at length. This is more about a narrative choice that I keep tripping up on in the structure of the movie, one I really don’t understand, and one that makes an otherwise strong movie that much weaker. One little thing, relatively minor, but one which illustrates the importance of how sloppiness can undermine a theme.
It is entirely predicated in a line from fairly early on in the movie.
“This is a list of all the songs that we have ever performed. And you will notice that we only do songs made famous by women.”
The next line is from Becca, our hero, commenting that there is nothing from this century on the list of songs, and don’t they need to freshen it up? And, yes, they do! It’s a valid point, it’s a great manifestation of the central conflict. They need to modernize their set-list, they need to take risks, they need to come together and collaborate rather than only rigidly perform what’s worked before, and they do all these things — but, they perform songs written by men, for men. It’s a problem that, like many of the other problems in these movies, is only exacerbated as the franchise wears on.
When the Barden Bellas start to excel, they do so with more modern music, yes, and an updated set-list, willingness to work together, and by completely abandoning what seems to have been a guiding principle for the team for years. They start singing Bruno Mars, Pitbull, more Pitbull (seriously, these movies have a LOT of Pitbull), and Simple Minds.
This may have initially been a means of adapting to a plot point, Becca winning Jesse back with a song from his favorite movie and favorite movie ending of all time. Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds is a song made famous by a man. I can see why the screenwriters would have thought they needed it and, okay, that is one I am willing to give a pass on. It’s plot related, we can sweep that one under the rug if we must, if there are truly no epic movie songs made famous by women deemed romantic enough for the mandatory romantic subplot.
As it stands, the line is one that the movie seems to want to sweep under the rug in it’s tale of female cooperation and empowerment, and one that should have been cut if it was not going to be adhered to because, as presented, the movie makes the argument that “updating the set list” needed to include songs by men in order for the Bellas to become successful.
The “only made famous by women” line would not have bothered me as much as a throwaway line, if not for one little moment where the potential for what might have been shined through — the scene on the bus, with the spontaneous Miley Cyrus song.
Imagine the ending of Pitch Perfect 1, but with songs like that. The claim here isn’t that Party in the U.S.A. is some feminist anthem or that Pitch Perfect needed to be, but just imagine the Bellas finale with some Spice Girls. Brittney Spears. Destiny’s Child. Songs that women know, songs that women can’t help but sing along to, songs that make women feel good about themselves. Imagine how much stronger the ending of the movie could have been by incorporating feel-good songs made famous by women, keeping true to the Bella’s roots and updating their set list for a modern audience at the same time.
The film’s framing of the nostalgia inherent in the emotional center of the finale was good, but for one little thing.