Pitch Perfect 3 offers a satisfying conclusion to the a capella series, but sacrifices heart and substance for bizarre, over-the-top story choices.
Pitch Perfect 3 reunites the Barden Bellas for one last tour in the third outing of the movie franchise focused on a collegiate a capella singing group. When the first Pitch Perfect hit theaters in 2012, it was amid the heyday of FOX’s Glee, a TV series that had given rise to a wave of popularity for show choirs and a capella groups. Mixing some offbeat humor, fun and flashy musical numbers, and a surprising amount of heart with the typical ragtag group of underdogs story, Pitch Perfect was a solid, if unanticipated, success. Because the film was a hit at the box office, it earned a sequel in Pitch Perfect 2, which was even more financially successful – if not quite as well received – securing the Barden Bellas a third outing. Pitch Perfect 3 offers a satisfying conclusion to the a capella series, but sacrifices heart and substance for bizarre, over-the-top story choices.
Pitch Perfect 3 picks up a few years after the events of Pitch Perfect 2, with the Bellas living their post-graduate lives and pursuing careers away from each other. The former leader of the Bellas, Beca (Anna Kendrick), works as a music producer, though it isn’t necessarily what she envisioned as her dream job. She winds up quitting, and going home to tell her roommate and fellow former Bella, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). To get her mind off the bad day, Beca, Fat Amy, and Chloe (Brittany Snow) head to a reunion with their class of Barden Bellas, hosted by the current a capella group, led by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). However, when Emily reveals the original Bellas aren’t actually going to perform like they expected, Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests a way for the downtrodden post-grads to reunite one more time.
The Bellas – Beca, Fat Amy, Chloe, Aubrey, Emily, Lilly (Hana Mae Lee), Cynthia-Rose (Ester Dean), Flo (Chrissie Fit), Jessica (Kelley Jakle), and Ashley (Shelley Regner) – head to Europe to perform on a USO tour just for the fun of performing together. Once there, though, they discover that there is a competition for a prime performance slot opening for DJ Khaled during the televised conclusion of the tour. Unfortunately, they’re pitted against three groups that use instruments, which seems to put them at a disadvantage – especially compared to the all-female rock group led by Calamity (Ruby Rose). Meanwhile, throughout the tour Fat Amy reconnects with a key figure from her past, Fergus (John Lithgow), and Beca’s talent is noticed by Theo (Guy Burnet), one of the members of DJ Kahled’s team.
The surprising success of Pitch Perfect isn’t all that surprising when looking at the larger scope of pop culture at the time. It arrived at the height of Glee’s success – which alone can likely be credited for the surge of musical TV shows that arrived in the early 2010s – and just a year following the success of female-fronted comedy Bridesmaids, which inspired a wave of studios trying to churn out female-led comedies. A year and a half after Bridesmaids illustrated the need for female-fronted comedies – and their viability at the box office – Pitch Perfect landed with a group of quirky, charming, diverse, and most importantly, lovable a capella underdogs. Led by everywoman Anna Kendrick and featuring a breakout hilarious role for Rebel Wilson (which channeled the spirit of Bridesmaids), Pitch Perfect found success by channeling what had been niche genres that had become much more popular.
All that’s to say, Pitch Perfect debuted at a unique time in the film industry and the scope of Hollywood has changed dramatically since. Glee concluded its run many years ago now, and female-fronted comedies led by a variety of women from all walks of life and with different kinds of humor are pervasive in both film and TV. That’s not to say there isn’t room for more comedies focusing solely on a cast of flawed and diverse women, which Pitch Perfect 3 undoubtedly is. But the story of Pitch Perfect never necessitated a sequel, let alone a threequel. It’s clear from the brisk hour and a half of Pitch Perfect 3 that the franchise is running on fumes, especially since the film throws in a subplot revolving around a crime lord taking the Bellas hostage and them being saved by one of their own, who happens to be the criminal’s long lost daughter. The homages to James Bond films are aplenty, but it’s a bizarre addition to a series that kicked off – and found success – by centering a group of a capella singers who support each other.
Certainly, the group at the center of Pitch Perfect 3 remains the core strength of the series. Wilson brings her brand of humor back to the Fat Amy role, though the schtick has run out a bit over the course of three movies and feels more like a parody of itself. Kendrick is still the reluctant heart of the Bellas, and undoubtedly the biggest strength of Pitch Perfect 3; she gets some truly hilarious one-liners in, especially during her interactions with Burnet’s Theo. Additionally, Snow and Camp’s understated comedic performances as Chloe and Aubrey, respectively, remain a highlight (though it’s unfortunate that Chloe’s possible bisexuality has been played for laughs for three movies now without being addressed in any real way). The remaining cast members also get their moments, and the film makes sure to give each of them a satisfying conclusion, but the large cast means they don’t get the same focus as the lead four.
On the whole, Pitch Perfect 3 is a decent return to the Barden Bellas world, with screenwriter Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect, Pitch Perfect 2) somewhat successfully nailing a facsimile of what worked about their dynamic with quippy lines and aca-decent jokes. Plus, the script includes a great deal of meta references to Pitch Perfect 3 being the final farewell tour for the Barden Bellas, just as it is for the series, which gives the film some self-deprecating humor. Further, director Trish Sie (Step Up: All In) gives moviegoers some visually interesting performance scenes that highlight the talent of the a capella groups on display. But for the most part, Pitch Perfect 3 suffers from issues typical of sequels – it attempts to go bigger and flashier when what worked about the original movie were the quiet character moments.
As a result, Pitch Perfect 3 may be a fun final trip for those who are big fans of the Barden Bellas, but it isn’t necessary viewing for anyone else. There are other female-fronted comedies that feature more well-developed characters and with more heart, as well as more compelling musicals. And, with the bizarre James Bond-style subplot thrown in, Pitch Perfect 3 may even alienate those fans who were excited for a return to the Bellas and their a capella antics. Though Pitch Perfect was an unanticipated hit, the series about a group of a capella sisters has undoubtedly run its course – and even Pitch Perfect 3‘s self-deprecating humor seems to acknowledge this fact at multiple points.
Pitch Perfect 3 is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 93 minutes and is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language and some action.
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