Brilliant screenwriting is unmistakable. We count on it to carry us through a film’s entirety. Careless writing in an otherwise enjoyable screenplay, however, can mar even the wittiest of writers’ work. A mere moment of sloppiness degrading a film as an unwelcome party guest showing up two courses through dinner.
Such is the messy plate of Pitch Perfect‘s interpretation of a “gay” character, the butch, short hair sportin’, pussy-lovin’, titty-grabbin’, black bulldyke stereotype otherwise known as Cynthia Rose. But, what’s the point of giving her a name? Those offensive descriptors are how the filmmakers want you to see her, anyway. It’s a shame, because Pitch Perfect, otherwise effectively written by Kay Cannon, is an enjoyable film without a malicious bone in its celluloid body, telling the story of an all-female acapella group struggling its way to the to the top of yet another male-dominated field. It’s at once powerful social commentary on the trickling down of patriarchal dominance, but it’s merely the sloppy, outside-the-lines pandering for humor at the expense of a gay character that gives the film a sour aftertaste.
Cynthia Rose is given no purpose in the film other than to generate laughs in one of two ways; A) When any other characters questions her sexuality and B) when she indiscriminately grabs for any body part of the nearest female character. She’s plopped into the screenplay without much motivation; she tries out for an accapella group, makes the cut, and is never given much thought again–until a cheap joke at her expense can be thrown her way. The other girls get a kick out of speculating about her sexuality. A few of them find themselves in various compromising positions whilst in her proximity; Cynthia Rose is there, lust in her eyes and nothing but air in her hands, copping a feel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Let’s take, for example, a scene which sees Cynthia’s fellow group member, Fat Amy, reeling on the ground after a rival group throws food at her from a moving bus. Amy writhes on the ground, screaming for help as if she’s been shot. Cynthia is first on the scene, beaming at the opportunity to give way-open-mouth CPR to a friend who’s clearly breathing (enough so that her screams alerted Cynthia) on the ground. The joke would be funny if it were, say, someone with a prior sexually-induced trait; we laugh at Quagmire on “Family Guy” because we know he’s a sex addict. A breast, leg, or thigh comically coincidentally finding its way into his line of vision, for example, might inspire an actual sexual response. We expect this because of his addiction to sex, not because of his gender or sexual orientation. Pitch Perfect has you believe Cynthia Rose’s only motivation is that she’s a woman attracted to other women. The straight men in the film, however, keep their hands to themselves. They proposition women, but we’re never given even the slightest inclination that they’re resisting the insatiable urge to to grasp every piece of female flesh which walks before them. Countless other scenes draw on this same “gay is funny” principle; Cynthia makes attempts at grabbing other girls constantly throughout, and each instance comes at a time when far funnier things are going on around her. Say I’m a whiner, but the carelessness in presenting a gay character in such a ridiculously backwards manner is distracting (and detracting) from an otherwise pleasant comedic excursion.
Some might say the film also mocks “fat” people with the inclusion of a character with “fat” in her name. The joke with Fat Amy, however, is not that she’s a “fat” person. “You really call yourself ‘Fat Amy’?” one character asks her. “Yes, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back,” she responds. The humor lies within Amy’s insistence on taking control of an otherwise oppressive situation. She embraces herself enough to throw the criticism back into the face of someone who might try to do the same to her. She’s a step ahead. Cynthia instead fuels the criticism by mere existence, the laughs coming at the expense of her inherent desire versus her harnessing control away from the social status quo.
I remember watching the documentary “The Celluloid Closet”, listening to Harvey Fierstein discuss the offensive “sissy” characters of early cinema. Forgive me, for exact quotes always elude me, but I believe he said something to the effect of “I’d rather have offensive screen time than no screen time at all.” The phrase struck me as well-intentioned, but misinformed; that response diminishes an entire culture as desperate for attention versus long overdue for equality. Pitch Perfect, a film by all means about a subject completely different, will have you oddly pondering the presence of gay characters in a similarly muddled fashion. Sure, the joke is “funny” at face value and the gay character is “there,” but are audiences laughing such characters back into the closet, mocking inherent attractions characters like Jack Twist and Nic Allgood feel simply because they’re attractions?
Disregard all the “whining,” if you will, but I’ll leave you with this question: Is Pitch Perfect a better film because of the addition of the content I’m talking about? A worse film? If you can answer that, there’s a problem.