The Meta of Pitch Perfect: Jesse’s Movie Collection

Jaws (1975) – Steven Spielberg, music: John Williams
Rocky (1976) – John G. Avildsen, music: Bill Conti
Star Wars (1977) – George Lucas, music: John Williams
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Steven Spielberg, music: John Williams
The Breakfast Club (1985) – John Hughes, music: Keith Forsey

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A list of Jesse’s  (played by Skylar Astin) favorite movies shows that someone has a toner for John Williams. Be that as it may, this list may show some insight into Jesse’s character. Don’t be fooled, it is a pretty standard list (I would almost call it predictable), four of them being at least nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and a Best Music award – The Breakfast Club being the notable exception. And can anyone claim to not have seen at least one of these movies?

I myself have seen them all – most of them as a kid on German tv and multiple times. I was a little late for the Star Wars-mania as I have only watched that one (or rather: all of them) as an adult. Historically, this list fits better with someone my age – mid-thirties – which is to say that Jesse is indicated to have an extensive knowledge of movies/music in movies since he doesn’t favor movies from his own time which are more accessible. He doesn’t just go to the movie theater and watches whatever is on – he is a fan. And music seems to be the discriminating factor as most of these movies are from different genres. Look at them: Jaws is horror, Rocky is from rags to riches/underdog story, Star Wars and E.T. are science fiction with undertones of coming-of-age, and The Breakfast Club is all about coming-of-age with rebellious teenagers.

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Let’s look at them individually, though:

Jaws is one of my favorite horror movies and probably the first one I ever saw. It stays with you – and not just because of the dum-dum dum-dum dum-dum of the soundtrack. Besides being a horror/creature movie, the value for Jesse – besides the music – would probably lie in male heroism. As Jaws is clearly another take on Melville’s Moby Dick, it examplifies man’s search for adventure and manhood. It thus also tells us that Jesse is heterosexual – the whole phallocentric symbolism, of course, works both ways as does a story about male bonding but film-makers of the 80s have mostly ignored the homoeroticism, so I may as well. Besides that Jaws also tells a story of familial bonding, maybe the second movie is a clearer take on it but it’s also already in the first movie. Brody (played by Roy Scheider) tries to protect his family, especially his son, therefore he goes out to sea to kill the beast. I would presume that Jesse’s relationship to his own father is important to him.

I would suggest that from the five movies on display, Rocky is the most romantic, because in the end it isn’t the result of the fight that interests Rocky Balboa (played by Silvester Stallone), it’s that Adrian (Talia Shire)  is by his side. Who could forget the wounded Italian Stallion crying out for his lady-love? Certainly, manly achievement is on the forefront of this one, but it also shows that a tough man can have a heart. Rocky is probably the character Jesse identifies most with – sure, there’s always Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Jesse admires his sass and rebelliousness but at heart Jesse is more conservative, more like Rocky. He wants romance but he also wants commitment.

Star Wars is probably the most predictable boy-fantasy. And I’m not saying that girls or differently gendered people can’t love it just as much but it is clearly advertised toward boys – of all ages. From the five chosen movies of his dvd collection, I would almost say that this has the highest potential of a dick flick – the male equivalent of a chick flick. Princess Leia (perfect: Carrie Fisher) is pretty much the only female character of the whole series – of course, she’s badass contrary to most female characters of the genre (if you can consider dick flick a genre [I might write a blog post about this at some point to explain my sentiments about it]). While Luke (Mark Hamill) is certainly the movie’s focus, it is Han Solo who most people identify with – for once, he gets the girl, for another, he’s simply dashing. Given, he doesn’t always make the best decisions but he follows more in Cary Grant or Clark Gable’s footsteps, so, this is acceptable and to be expected. While Jesse certainly admires Han Solo, he seems to exhibit his least attractive characteristic – jealousy of Luke (yeah, I just came across the coincidence that they’re both jealous of a Luke, silly movie-makers). In both cases, it is completely misplaced and idiotic but, I guess, it could add to Jesse’s dorkiness – if you find jealousy in a man flattering rather than domineering. Star Wars certainly satisfies the need for epic-ness in Jesse’s life, the ultimate adventure, a movie about friendship and love and defeating evil. But, given the context of Benji (Ben Platt), his fangirling abilities are moderate. Yes, he loves the movie but he is far from being the nerdy slave to an obsession – ’cause that might put girls off. While certainly being a fan of the series, nothing in Jesse’s immediate vicinity screams: fan or nerd. You just have to look at his decorating choices, again compared to Benji’s, to see that he is on the conservative side, making it rather obvious through the display of a model of ‘the thinker’ that he actually considers himself one – and hinting at a slightly arrogant characteristic. This is not entirely out of tune with Han Solo, though I would argue that Solo’s deficient characteristic is cockyness, not arrogance.

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I never understood the fascinatiion with E.T. (don’t hit me!), it actually weirds me out. I think it’s creepy and scary (yes, I am a horror fan but THIS makes me uncomfortable) but it also seems to be on everybody’s list of favorite movies, so, no surprise it’s on Jesse’s. What’s this about? Coming of age, having a friend who’s different but accepting him, hating one’s siblings, maybe. This certainly shows that Jesse can be playful, he’s a child at heart who doesn’t abandon his childhood favorites for coolness or manliness. This is the origin of his dorkiness, too, and, of course, of his acceptance of Benji (as in: Benji is Jesse’s E.T., never mind how condescending that is). I don’t think that Jesse has siblings, he seems too confident and sharing doesn’t seem to be his strongest suit. If he has a sibling it would probably be a youger sister who he’s protective of now that they are older but who totally annoyed him when they were younger.

The Breakfast Club takes on a bigger role in Pitch Perfect and I’m planning on wrting a seperate blog post about possible parallels between the movies. But for Jesse, this movie is actually a surprising choice. I don’t think that identification is a strong inclination in this case. Judd Nelson’s character, John Bender, is too much of a rebel, actually too much of an outlaw to suggest that Jesse would like him if he wasn’t a character but maybe a fellow student. Andrew (played by Emilio Estevez) is a jock and that’s so not what Jesse is. And Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), the nerd, is an overachiever, a brainiac. No semblence with Jesse then. Surely, the film makes a point of showing Jesse in the light of John Bender’s hero-dom, lifting his fist at the end of the movie and again at the Bellas’ final performance. But Jesse is not a Bender stand-in, he’s not the hero and this is already indicated in how conservatively he raises his hand – in acknowledgement, yet, but not in imitation – when John pumps the air. Don’t You (Forget About Me) seems the strongest linkage between Jesse and the movie. He actually calls Billy Idol in idiot for not having grasp the opportunity to sing this song, to make it an Idol-classic.

I actually see a kind of friction in Jesse’s relationship to The Breakfast Club, or call it an anachronism. Except for E.T., the other mentioned movies are all from the 70s, they display a fair amount of conservatism – yes, even Star Wars with its good vs. evil and evil wearing black trope. E.T. is a children’s movie with an extra-terrestrial theme that can still be placed in the realm of outer-space mania of the 70s and early 80s. The Breakfast Club, on the other hand, is very modern, cool. It represents a new genre that tries to understand teenagers rather than condemning them (think of James Dean’s characters who always seem misunderstood, or Marlon Brando’s early roles). I would argue that The Breakfast Club has been chosen as a referential point for Pitch Perfect, rather than for the benefit of explaining Jesse’s character. The whole movie takes on an outsider’s role – which is certainly not too strange, we all have movies in our dvd collections that don’t seem to fit in with the rest of them – of Jesse’s choice, not having the same credentials as the rest of his favorites. But I’ll be writing about The Breakfast Club in reference to Pitch Perfect and, hopefully, you will see what I mean.

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This interpretation of Jesse’s character is, of course, highly subjective. This is how I see Jesse, how I see him reflected in his favorite movies. It’s also how I write him in my fanfictions. The fact that he is multi-layered allows for an interesting character and one can actually change him from story to story; make him a dork in one, a douchebag in the next, it still fits.

I feel that the choices of movies Pitch Perfect accomodates to Jesse make for a complex character. He’s not my favorite, I actually don’t like him all that much. His forefront-character is certainly dorky and nice and caring – and this is after all how the movie makers want us to see him mostly – but there are certain characteristics that make him less likable. I don’t only see his jealousy or his dominance through the movies he watches, I see them in Pitch Perfect when he gets jealous of Luke (Freddie Stroma) or doesn’t respect the boundaries Beca (perfect Anna Kendrick) sets up. Thankfully, it makes him into more of a character, sadly, not into a likable one. But that’s okay, you don’t have to like a character to write him – or write about him. But complexity makes for good entertainment and that’s, after all, what we all want.

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One thought on “The Meta of Pitch Perfect: Jesse’s Movie Collection

  1. I think that Beca’s choice of Don’t You was a musical message to Jesse. The Breakfast Club is important to Jesse and brought Beca to tears at the end. By choosing that song, she’s building on Jesse’s last question to her: “You push away people who care about you – why is that?”.

    Of note, Jesse’s fist pump was moving slowly but his fist might reach full extension at the same time as Beca which, in the movie, is directly before the start of the lyrics. It’s perhaps more likely Jesse’s call back to Beca as a hand raised would certainly draw her attention.

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