Who would have a thought a simple story about a female acapella group would have spawned a trilogy, with each entry being a case of diminishing returns.
Since graduating from Barden College life for the Bellas has not turned out so well. Beca (Anna Kendrick) has to deal with egotistical musicians, Chloe (Brittany Snow) is struggling to get into veterinary school, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is an unemployed entertainer. The rest of the Bellas are stuck in crappy jobs. After an unsuccessful reunion, the Bellas decide to have one last hooray by going on a USO tour in Europe and compete in a competition hosted by DJ Khaled.
The first two Pitch Perfect films can be described as sports films about music. They have the same formula as a sports film: set up the competition and why the team is underdogs, showing a rivalry with another team and riffs within their own team before coming together for the final game or in Pitch Perfect‘s case sing-off. Yet there is only so much mileage a film series can get from this formula and Pitch Perfect 3 was running on fumes. The first two films have defined arcs: the first was about Beca having to become more social and the second was about the Bellas having to get their spark back. The third was all over the place.
To show how desperate the series has become, Pitch Perfect 3 starts with the Bellas singing Brittany Spears’ “Toxic” in front of a terrible green screen before a series of explosions happen on a boat. This is indicative of the film as a whole, and it wouldn’t be surprising if writer Kay Cannon had to use all the story ideas she could think of and for the first time in the series she had to team up with another writer.
The core of the story is the Bellas entering another competition, but it is much more disjointed this time. The Bellas seem to be forming a rivalry with another group, this time the all-female rock group Evermoist (a terrible and unrealistic name for any band) but this is forgotten fairly quickly. The other major musical storyline involves Beca being approached by an English music producer (Guy Burnet) for a record contract but that would mean leaving the Bellas. Amy has a subplot involving her criminal father (John Lithgow) which feels like it should have been in another film. Finally, Chloe and Lily (Hana Mae Lee) are given token love interests that hardly play a part of the film.
It wouldn’t be surprising if there were two screenplays and the producers decided to combine the two: one is a continuation of the Pitch Perfect with it all its typical story points and act as a send-off. The other being an action-comedy vehicle for Rebel Wilson. Pitch Perfect wasn’t a series crying out for explosions and a subplot involving an international gangster. It was an excuse to give Wilson more screen time, allow for her to ad-lib even more and the action on the boat made Wilson look like Melissa McCarthy’s character in Spy.
The humor in the film is a mixed bag. There is a self-awareness in some of the jokes: the best revolving around two Bellas who had no characterization in the previous films. The other involves the expository dialogue because it is so bad that even the movie lampshades it. The joke would have worked better if there were no scenes involving Fat Amy describing what happened with Beca’s boyfriend and Aubrey describing how they can get on the USO tour. Other jokes were so telegraphed that even the film draws attention to it. The most obvious involves the Bellas at a private party and a beehive. Just because you draw attention to a tired joke doesn’t make it better.
One of the long-running themes is the parental relationships of some of the Bellas members. In the first film, Beca was hostile towards her dad because he divorced her mother and he dared to pay for her college education. In Pitch Perfect 2 Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a Bella. Pitch Perfect 3 doubles down and gives audiences two storylines because Fat Amy’s dad is trying to re-establish contact, whilst Aubrey (Anna Camp) has an absentee father because of his job in the military and wants him to see one of her shows.
If I was generous, I could argue that Pitch Perfect 3 wanted to introduce a theme of life after college not being easy. The Bellas are stuck in jobs they are overqualified for, while Emily is stressed because of her heavy college workload. Millennials could easily relate to this situation where finding suitable employment and housing keeps getting tougher. The character of Chloe is someone who can be described as having peaked at college: she was scared to graduate in the previous film and in this one she longs to relive the glory days.
The musical numbers are okay if you like your autotune, overly produced pop. The best number involved the new Barden Bellas performing at the Brooklyn Aquarium. The final performance was touching for fans as a send off to the characters they know and love.
The Pitch Perfect series has devolved from a reasonably believable story about an eclectic group of young women becoming friends through music to a globe-trotting adventure about stopping criminal masterminds. Fans of the Bellas will properly enjoy their last adventure together, but for everyone else, it’s a miss.