For those of you that don’t know, Beca Mitchell is the main character of the Pitch Perfect films. The plot revolves around Beca’s involvement with a university a cappella group, and their all-consuming quest for glory. While on the surface the films can seem relatively formulaic, they have been extremely well received by critics and audiences alike, and have been praised for their realistic depiction of female characters and the cut-throat world of collegiate a cappella (okay, maybe not that last one). The first film was a huge hit, pulling in crowds of people, millions of dollars, and a handful of awards, and the second film looks set to follow in its footsteps. Anna Kendrick’s performance as Beca was universally praised, and the character herself has been praised as an extremely realistic representative of adolescence and young adulthood.
But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
For much of the first film, Beca is a very passive player. She goes to college, but she doesn’t want to be there: her father is forcing her to go. She joins her a cappella group, the Barden Bellas, but she doesn’t do so on her own initiative: her dad makes her do it. She actually spends a significant part of the movie sitting in her room and ignoring other people’s attempts to make friends with her. Quite frankly, she starts off the film like an ‘alternative’ version of Bella Swan.
However, this doesn’t last long. As she becomes more involved in her life at university, she starts to take charge: she joins a radio station, starts suggesting changes to her a cappella group’s routine, and actively tries to make amends when she drives her friends away. We even see her try to rebuild her strained relationship with her father as she becomes more invested in her life at university. This continues into the second film, where she’s become the leader of the Barden Bellas and is actively trying to restore their reputation. This is actually a very realistic portrayal of the ways that people get involved in their own lives – it’s much easier to take control when you’re doing something that you’re actively invested in.
SCORE SO FAR: 1
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
One of Beca’s main goals throughout both films is her drive to become a music producer. This ties into one of her most prominent hobbies, as well – she enjoys making mashups of various songs in her spare time. This is a real passion that drives her through both films, something that she’s always working towards, and something that we clearly see is very important to her, outside of her role in the Barden Bellas. Her beliefs are a little harder to pin down. One of the main points of conflict in the first movie is her belief that she is wasting her time in university, and that she would be much better off if she could just move to L.A. and start her career as a music producer. She eventually comes around to her father’s way of thinking and stays at university, but it’s more because of how much she’s enjoying her time with the Bellas than because she now sees the value of education. Regardless, I’m giving her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
For the most part, Beca’s character is pretty consistent. Throughout the films, she’s portrayed as a creative, slightly confrontational young woman who finds it a lot easier to keep things close to her chest. Even as her character progresses, these elements of her personality don’t disappear. Her skills are even more consistent – throughout both movies, she’s shown to be very good at arranging and performing music in a variety of different ways.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A creative young woman joins a university a cappella group and learns to open up to her group of friends.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Beca’s love life doesn’t really play much of a part in the movies. At the end of the first film she gets together with rival a cappella singer, Jesse, and they continue to date all through the second film. The romance takes a back seat to the Barden Bellas’ quest for musical glory, and doesn’t really influence very many of her decisions. The one time it really influences her decisions is in the first film, where Beca realises that she has been unfair in pushing Jesse away, and attempts to make amends. She both apologises and uses the Bellas’ final performance as a means to declare her affection for Jesse, but even though this is a pretty big gesture it never distracts her from achieving her other goals. Her previous motivations remain just as important to her whether she’s single or in a relationship, so I’m giving her the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 5
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
Over the course of the first film, Beca matures into a much more active and interesting character. When we are first introduced to her, she’s a very passive character who rarely puts any effort into anything, rolls her eyes through pretty much every single social interaction and quits the second things start getting difficult. She also seems to hate pretty much everything, including movies, sunshine, and smiling. I’m exaggerating a little, but it doesn’t change the fact that when she’s introduced she’s pretty much the quintessential hipster.
Thank GOD she doesn’t stay like that. Over the course of the film she starts making more effort with her studies and with her friends, she starts trying to make things work even when it’s difficult, and she actively tries to build up better relationships with her family and friends. This continues into the second film, where we see her learn to be more open and honest with her friends and to stop forcing everyone else to do what she wants to do. She doesn’t quite get rid of some of her vaguely pretentious behaviour (unfortunately), but perhaps that’s something for the third film to work on.
SCORE SO FAR: 6
- Does she have a weakness?
Beca has plenty of weaknesses, especially in the first film. She can be very passive, often finding it much easier to just give up when something gets difficult – whether that’s winning a competition or building a relationship with her family and friends. She’s also utterly convinced of her own rightness, to the extent that she refuses to listen to people who disagree with her and almost ruins an a cappella routine on stage. She pushes people away when they try and help her, creating lots of tension in all her relationships, be they friendly, romantic or familial. These are all weaknesses which actively hold her back in both movies, creating tension in her relationships and sometimes preventing her from easily achieving her goals. They’re all very realistic and believable flaws, so she passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 7
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
Beca doesn’t get captured or killed in the Pitch Perfect films; the world of a cappella isn’t quite that brutal. It does, however, take a while for her to truly start exercising influence in the films. For much of the first film, she’s being made to do things by other characters, whether it’s her father forcing her to go to university or the other singers making her join an a cappella group. As the film goes on she starts making more of her own decisions, and this continues into the sequel.
However, a lot of the film’s plot is very heavily influenced by outside influences. This takes many forms, including rival a cappella groups, the decisions of governing committees, and a number of competitions with rules the characters must abide by. The characters’ actions don’t always move the plot along – sometimes it’s just stuff that generates a lot of the action. What this means for the movies as a whole is that the characters – Beca included – don’t get a lot of opportunity to exercise much agency at all. Regardless of Beca’s personal development, her scope to make her own decisions is limited because they are plot-driven films, so I don’t feel like I can award her full points here. However, she does still get an opportunity to influence the plot, regardless of how limited it is, so I’ll give her half a point.
SCORE SO FAR: 7.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Beca is very clearly presented as a character who resists all things ‘traditional’, and this includes gender stereotypes. She’s unfriendly, prefers her own company, quits things when they get difficult, is incredibly focused on her career goals and can be quite aggressive. She has little patience for convention and seems to find the traditionally feminine look adopted by the Barden Bellas either silly or embarrassing and actively works to change it. Beca’s own views on gender stereotypes aren’t explicitly discussed, but given her tendency to reject the traditional and the fact that several aspects of her personality are about as far from stereotypically feminine as you can get, she passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 8.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Beca has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of female characters. She becomes very good friends with Fat Amy (née Fat Patricia). In the second film, Beca develops a rivalry with the female leader of the German a cappella group, Das Sound Machine, which is complicated by Beca’s heavily suppressed attraction to her. In the first film, she develops a more straight-laced rivalry with group leader Aubrey which later turns into friendship, and this relationship is mirrored in the sequel, where Aubrey’s friend Chloe steps into this role. Beca’s relationship with Chloe is a little weak – as they didn’t really show any enmity between the two in the first film, it feels a little bit like Chloe is essentially Aubrey 2.0 – but the quantity of other relationships with female characters more than makes up for that.
FINAL SCORE: 9.5/10
Beca is a well-written character with a range of strengths and weaknesses, a consistent personality and level of skill, and clear goals, beliefs and hobbies. Her love life doesn’t completely overshadow the rest of decisions and she has a range of different relationships with other female characters. She may not always be in control of her own story, but she’s certainly passed my test!
Next week, I’ll be looking at Parks and Recreation. Leslie Knope, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.