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Armond White

Pitch Slap

Pitch Slap

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2 and Hot Pursuit make gay 'funny' in the worst way

Poor Cheryl Dunye and Rose Troche, the out-front lesbian indie filmmakers of the 1990s. Their counterintuitive, alternative lifestyle films Watermelon Woman (1996), Stranger Inside (2001), and Go Fish (1994), came too early to cash-in on Hollywood's current politically-correct gay-for-pay lesbian trend as seen in the new films Pitch Perfect 2 and Hot Pursuit.

Girl-on-girl scenes in these movies exploit various interest in same-sex female relations -- mostly the hetero male's group-fantasy kind in Hot Pursuit and the adolescent bi-curious kind in PP2. They twist feminism to the most loathsome commercial pretexts: Pitch Perfect 2 makes a franchise out of the 2013 semi-cult hit about a female a capella singing team and Hot Pursuit goes after its biggest yucks when on-the-lam cop and criminal Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara pretend to make-out for the horn-dog delight of Southern law officers and the pop audience in general.

Reviews that dog-piled on Hot Pursuit for its obvious, low-brow humor were lazy and unenlightening. The dumbest and wrongest invoked Adam Sandler (whose films such as Blendedand I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry were are ethnically and sexually spot-on as Troche and Dunye, recalling their sweet-natured, counterintuitive visions).

Reese and Sofia

But sarcastic critics missed the opportunity to point out the anxious, defensive way Hot Pursuit, while humiliating its game actresses, also degraded the idea of gay attraction by presenting female sensuality as jokey hysteria. Vergara's loudmouth sex-bomb and Witherspoon's shrill klutz, two stereotypes based on previous chick-flick formula, were such misguided characterizations they suggested career sabotage.

PP2 is slicker but no better. Director Elizabeth Banks and scenarist Kay Cannon face gayness head-on, using crude and derisive gags. Beca (Anna Kendrick), vocal arranger for the Barden College Bellas, is both intimidated by and attracted to her competitor, a blonde Valkyrie (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) who leads the hyper-aggressive group Das Sound Machine. "Your sweat smells like cinnamon," Beca grovels. Beca admits her sexual confusion yet the film's vibe is mostly abashed and hostile. (Beca's relationship with her boyfriend Skylar Astin is neutered.)

Instead of dealing with adolescent sexual insecurities, PP2's use of bitch-slap slapstick (pratfalls based on body-shame) is vaguely misogynist. ("You're pretty but you're clumsy" Beca tells a Bella pledge.) It is this ruthless commercialism inside the recognition of lesbian impulse that insults the tradition Troche and Dunye struggled to uphold in their low-budget devotion to alternative, multicultural principles. PP2's black butch-haircut Bella (Ester Dean) who proclaims, "I'm black, gay and a woman," is not just a token, she's a redundant token. Other than being the butt of the most physically horrendous joke (based on a Michael Jackson catastrophe) she's kept in the background.

While imitating Glee's P.C. gay acceptance, PP2 still holds back. When the Bellas finally "find our sound," bad lip-syncing robs the sisterhood moment of sensuality; the lack of sensitivity is akin to homphobia. There's even a cruel, unnecessary dis of George Michael. And the Glee-lite exploitation of only obvious pop hits dares not include a version of Nirvana's "All Apologies" with its line "What else can I say?/ Everyone is gay." Banks and Cannon lack Kurt Cobain's consciousness-raising empathy.

If this gay-conscious critique seems too harsh, consider PP2's ultimate offense: It lacks hot guys. When Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy rolls around with chunky Adam DeVine, their fusion is the closest the film gets to alternative sex: They look like a hermaphroditic Jack Black wrestling with himself. PP2 makes gay "funny" in the worst way.

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