The Double Feature: Pitch Perfect and Bring It On
This month the Double Feature has it all: singing, dancing, cheerleaders, tough girls being transformed by the power of popular music and lady bonding, Rebel Wilson, Eliza Dushku and a healthy side of satire thrown in for good measure. We’re pairing last year’s surprise hit, Pitch Perfect, with the 2000 cult classic Bring it On. And trust me, it’s going to be fun.
Pitch Perfect was billed as a surprise hit in the same way that Bridesmaids was, as if it’s somehow bizarre to see moviegoers flock to films featuring deep benches of talented comedic actresses. The film’s primary focus is on the all-girl college a cappella group The Barden Bellas as they try to make a comeback from a nightmarish performance from the previous year that was the result of some impressive projectile vomiting from Anna Camp’s controlling Aubrey. However, the real star is Anna Kendrick, whose loner, music-obsessed Beca slowly lets her defenses drop as she discovers the joys of friendship and joining in.
That may sound like a story with all the makings of an after-school special, but Pitch Perfect is more like an after-school special as directed by Billy Wilder. It’s completely bananas thanks to its eccentric group of performers led by the aforementioned Camp and the effervescently cheerful Brittany Snow. Rebel Wilson emerged as the break-out star of the group thanks to her gleefully weird turn as Fat Amy, but the barely audible Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) is quite the scene-stealer herself.
On the downside, the plot itself is so formulaic and slight that the film would float away if it wasn’t grounded by the combination of strong performances and killer musical numbers. In an age where everyone seems to have caught musical fever, Pitch Perfect still manages to unleash the kind of showstoppers that stun, marrying modern anthems with classic tunes to produce a capper that pays homage to The Breakfast Club and the transformative power of teamwork. By the time the movie is over, you may wish it had delved deeper, but you’ll still be grinning as the credits roll.
Before Pitch Perfect, there was a little movie called Bring It On. Released in 2000, at the height of a second wave of teen movie fever, Bring It On is the definitive movie about competitive cheerleading. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as the ultra-competitive senior Torrance, who is tasked with leading her team to their sixth national title. Her goal seems out of reach when one of her key team members is injured early on, but luckily–and feel free to stop me if you’ve heard this one before–surly, loner expert gymnast Missy (Eliza Dushku) has just moved to town. Missy thinks cheerleading and team spirit are ridiculous, but Torrance manages to convince Missy to join up anyway.
Once again, the set-up seems a bit after-school special-esque, but where Pitch Perfect is content with going for the laughs, Bring It On adds another layer to its story by including a rival team from a school across town with less funding. Missy quickly realizes that her team’s go-to routines are being copied from the other school, setting up a rivalry with the other squad, led by the terrific Gabrielle Union. From there, Bring It On becomes a film that’s not just about competition and friendship, but also about class politics, as we watch Union’s squad work extra hard to reach regionals without accepting any help from Torrence.
In between all of the cool, and often seemingly death-defying cheer routines, Bring It On manages to make a female-centric teen film that touches on class, race and the power friendship while simultaneously forcing viewers to take cheerleading seriously as a sport. In between all of that, it also manages to be hilarious. Not too shabby for a teen comedy, huh?
When compiling a list of films about competition, the vast majority of them are going to be male-centric. Pitch Perfect and Bring It On take two non-traditional competitions (cheerleading and a cappella) and turn them into events. They’re the kind of movies that make you cheer when you least expect them to, and they both feature groups of underdogs forming unlikely friendships (or in the case of Bring It On sharing a begrudging respect). It’s the underlying satirical vibe that really makes these two films work together though. They each have their failings, but they both offer up sly commentary on female representation (and exploitation), competitive sports and beauty standards.
Also, did I mention the part where they’re fun?
I don’t usually offer up suggestions for a triple feature, but if you’re looking to make your competitive ladies’ movie night a trio, you can’t go wrong with the deliciously dark 1999 comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous, also starring Dunst. It’s far more overtly satirical than our Double Feature, but its over-the-top look inside the world of beauty pageants turned deadly is even sharper than the other two. This movie is less about girl power and more about the down and dirty business of escaping small town life– no matter the cost, but if you’re looking for a nice sour chaser for the sweet fun of the previous two films, Drop Dead Gorgeous is the way to go.
As always, I’d love to hear your take on this month’s Double Feature, and if you have a genre you’d like me to offer up a Double Feature for in the future let me know in the comments or drop me a line on Twitter.
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