21 Jump Street – Phil Lord and Chris Miler – 2012
Ted – Seth Macfarlane – 2012
Pitch Perfect – Jason Moore – 2012
By my estimation, there are four different levels of offensive/oppressive that a film can hit (although I’m sure there are more out there). There is the level where the fact that the film is being made is potentially offensive (The Color Purple and Django Unchained fit this bill for having white directors tell black stories). There is the level where an offensive character is also likeable for whatever reason and thus can be seen as being apologetic (Django also fits here for Shultz’s character). There is where the story itself has problematic overtones (white saviour and damsel in distress stories are abundant here as well as stories that don’t acknowledge the existence of the gender spectrum). Finally there is where the writing of the film is filled with offensive and oppressive humour that we are designed to laugh at. For me, the last three are those whose existence can have the greatest impact on a film and its quality. The last one is what concerns the three above films. They all have rampant homophobia and misogyny (and in one case racism) in their humour and it ruins three, otherwise, hysterical scripts.
To start with 21 Jump Street (since it was released first), this film does present a more liberal view of LGBT issues in highschool, almost in a way that I would argue is unrealistic. However this film becomes problematic with how characters insult one another. While in one place there is an obvious backlash for one character using “gay” as an insult, through the rest of the film, all characters insult each other through emasculating them. There is even a scene when the two cops capture some badies, and they then pretend to rape them in order to show their dominance. While all this feeds into my theory that highschool homophobia is more based in misogyny than an actual hatred of homosexuality, this film promotes the idea that as long as you love gay people, it’s okay to hate women. It is a real shame considering the quality of the rest of this film. The two leads are great and Ice-T has a phenomenal performance as their police captain. A lot of highschool tropes are shattered, and the film knows exactly what it is (a loose film adaptation of an 80s tv show), but it’s an example of how what could have been a great film wasn’t thanks to a tired use of emasculation as humour.
The next film released was Ted and this fits into the first category as much as it does the last. Some will always hate Seth Macfarlen for the crimes against comedy in Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and American Dad. While I’m not Macfarlane’s biggest fan, I do like Family Guy and its cultural and inter-textual humour. Ted has much of this style of humour and its title character is hilariously blue. However, much of the humour is undercut by “gay” and “fag” jokes. Even the character meant to represent adulthood calls a few characters fags as a joke. Just as in 21 Jump Street, it’s a real shame because much of the writing in Ted is very witty. It’s a silly blue comedy and it plays as such. The greatest crime that Ted suffers from is its villain. One of my favourite character actors, Giovanni Ribisi, plays the father of a child who wants the teddy bear for his own. He is socially awkward and in one moment he is seen to be dancing to “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany in a way that forces a comparison to Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. The homophobic overtones are sickening. All of this is again to say that a film that could have been great, loses its esteem due to homophobia masked as humour.
Finally I will cover Pitch Perfect. As a great lover of Jason Reitman’s films, Anna Kendrick came to my attention in Up in the Air and I’ve been waiting for more greatness from her ever since. In Pitch Perfect we get a great performance from her in a film ruined by two things, Rebel Wilson and the character Cynthia Rose. The first time you meet Cynthia Rose in the film, it’s when she is mistaken for a man during her audition. Very soon after, Rebel Wilson’s character suspects her to be a lesbian. So all in one character we have the token black woman and the token lesbian. She is the butt of many homophobic jokes from Rebel Wilson’s character, but most offensively there are times when her character is seen inappropriately touching one of the other girls and blaming it on an accident, fueling the fire of the “gays are perverts and will make moves on anyone” trope. It’s so tired and unfunny that this film dropped from being the best of these three to the worst in only one scene.
These films are decent and mostly well written. But they rely on tired tropes for much of their humour. This makes many of the scenes unfunny and leaves a bad taste in your mouth after having finished. Writers need to stop relying on these kinds of jokes because they are taking otherwise brilliant films and throwing them in the barrel of films to discard once we finally start treating everyone properly in this world.