“Even though some of you are pretty thin, you all have fat hearts, and that’s what counts.”
So says Rebel Wilson’s character Fat Amy at the climax of her recent film Pitch Perfect, an ensemble comedy about college competitive a cappella singing (kinda like Glee, but without any backing instruments).
From what I understand, a lot of Amy’s lines in Pitch Perfect were ad libbed on set by Wilson. That’s how she does her thing, she’s a comedian rather than a comic actor per se. A lot of comedians do movies this way; Robin Williams is famous for it, and check out the out takes for Scrubs to see some of the bizarre ad libs from the Janitor that didn’t make the final cut (hilarious!).
And actually, knowing that is really awesome, because it makes me realise that the fat jokes in Pitch Perfect – and there are a LOT of fat jokes – aren’t comedy at Amy’s (and Wilson’s) expense, they’re a great big Fuck You to fat stereotypes.
The line in Amy’s introductory scene says a lot about what Wilson is doing here, and often does with her particular awkward deadpan brand of comedy. When she introduces herself as “Fat Amy” and uptight Aubrey replies “you call yourself Fat Amy?” she explains: “Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.” That’s what Wilson is doing throughout the whole movie when she slaps her belly as she sings “I got game by the pound”, when she yells “I’m going to finish him like a cheesecake” and when she says “yeah, don’t put me down for cardio”. Those fat stereotypes are ridiculous, and she’s showing up just how ridiculous they are. She’s not making fun of fat people with Fat Amy, she’s making fun of the people who think real fat people are food-obsessed and prefer “horizontal running”. She’s thrusting her fatness in their faces and forcing them to look.
And she totally owns her body, too. I know Wilson has expressed a desire to lose weight before (she was a Jenny Craig spokesperson at one point), and I don’t know if that has changed or not, but Amy the character loves being fat, she doesn’t shy away from it or act self-conscious at all. It’s wonderful to see a fat character on screen who calls herself fat unashamedly, and who is so physical. Unlike the fat chicks in Glee, she doesn’t get relegated to the fat lady versions of the costumes (gotta cover those arms!) or background dancing. She moves, she throws her whole body into the performance, and she rips her clothes off on stage, too. And she’s funny! There are definitely some jokes – from her and other characters – that made me cringe, like the “deaf Jews” bit, and the film isn’t at all without problems. But, perhaps surprisingly, the fat jokes aren’t the bad part.
In fact, the only person who ever insults Amy’s appearance is the guy we are absolutely supposed to hate from the first moment we meet him. For a while I was worried he was going to be a love interest for Amy, but while there’s an in-text hint that she may have used him for sex, it’s not one of those stories about a fat-hating douchebag being the best the fat girl can hope for. Amy has lots of boyfriends (whom she is “bored with”), and we see her lounging in the pool with several conventionally attractive, muscle-bound guys on Spring Break.
In general, I do wish awesome fat comedians like Rebel Wilson, Magda Szubansky and Melissa McCarthy got to play more roles that weren’t centred on how fat they are. They are talented women and they can do more than that. But I really like what Wilson does with the fat jokes in Pitch Perfect. They really made me laugh! I hope it’s as confronting and embarrassing to fat phobic audiences as it is clearly meant to be.
And I hope you all appreciate how hard it was for me to avoid making a “rebel with a cause” pun in the title of this post.