by Philip Price
In my review for the first “Pitch Perfect” five years ago I called it pure formula, but damn entertaining formula at that. Though the shine may have worn off a tad bit during two sequels and inevitable growing pains it is clear the Barden Bellas are still more than happy to kick it with one another and turn in a handful of generally great A cappella performances with virtually no rehearsal time whatsoever. Like how self-aware that sentence was? Then you'll once again love the very self-aware and insanely self-deprecating “Pitch Perfect 3” as it pretends to struggle to get over the hump of what this threequel should be about given all the girls from the original film are now out of school and pursuing actual careers where singing in their college A cappella group is undoubtedly the last thing they planned to and/or should be doing in their free time. People love them though, myself included, so count myself and every other person who found an affinity for this big screen version of “Glee” that became more of a cultural milestone than it was ever supposed to among the faithful that are happy to sit through another Bella adventure. This is all to state up front the perspective this reaction to “Pitch Perfect 3” will be coming from, but what has always been most appealing about these films is what writer Kay Cannon was able to capture in a sense of humor that is so of the moment it will, if nothing else, serve as a hallmark for how judgy, temperamental, and downright assured this particular generation was for a short time when it felt like anything was possible and the world was headed in all kinds of positive directions. ”Pitch Perfect 3” comes at a different time though, a time of less assurance and of more genuine attempts at staying positive both in the lives of the characters and the current national climate surrounding the film's release (as well as all the shade that typically comes along with being the third entry in a franchise many thought never should have been more than a single film) and thus we have what is presumably the final film with what is at least the original incarnation of the Bellas that, while not nearly as sharp or interesting as its predecessors, is very much a movie of its time as well: a safe, somewhat cautious third excursion that doesn't try to re-write the beats of the first two movies as much as it does lampoon them completely. Sometimes “Pitch Perfect 3” feels like a “Pitch Perfect” movie and other times it doesn't, but mostly it's just an enjoyable time at the movies you won't think much about afterwards until you buy it on Blu-ray in three months to complete your collection and remind yourself of just how much carefree fun it really is.
At the onset of “Pitch Perfect 3” we are immediately treated to the reunited Bellas performing Britney Spears's "Toxic" on what looks to be a luxurious yacht for a single-person audience with the performance very visibly lacking the chutzpah of Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy until Amy drops in from above and sprays that limited audience with a fire extinguisher allowing the Bellas to presumably run for their lives and leap from the yacht. We are given no context for these events before being taken back to some weeks prior where we will now be caught up with the individual members of the Bellas and what they've been doing since the end of the second film to Tarantino it and take us back around to the "Toxic" yacht performance. First up is naturally Anna Kendrick's Beca who has seemingly achieved her dreams of becoming a producer at a major record label except for the fact she has to work with artists like Pimp-Lo (Moises Arias) who don't appreciate her work or understand her craft. In the heat of the moment, Beca quits her job and returns to her small, New York-based apartment that she shares with Fat Amy where the two of them quickly exchange some exposition about why neither Skylar Astin's Jesse or Adam Devine's Bumper are no longer a part of their lives that, as you may have guessed, is totally disappointing. Even worse is the exclusion of Ben Platt's lovable Benji who they set-up as something of a love interest for Hailee Steinfeld's Emily in the second film, but Emily has seemingly moved on as well as she now ushers the new class of Bellas into warming up their vocal nodules and winning competitions. And so, Beca is now unemployed and Fat Amy has been making rent by becoming a street performer (i.e. Fat Amy Winehouse) while Brittany Snow's Chloe is still attempting to fulfill the prerequisites she needs to get into veterinary school. It is when Chloe shows up at Beca and Amy's apartment to remind them of their mini-reunion with the Bellas that Emily invited them to that we get to see what the rest of the gang has been up to while realizing what they were invited to wasn't really a reunion at all, but more of an invite to come and watch the new Bellas strut their stuff-which is of course completely depressing for the original Bellas who aren't exactly killing it in the real world. Anna Camp's Aubrey is as high-strung as ever still running her boot camp, Ester Dean's Cynthia Rose is failing flight school, Hana Mae Lee's Lilly still doesn't speak and thus no one has an idea what she does in her free time, Chrissie Fit's Flo is working at a juice stand, and Kelley Jakle's Jessica and Shelley Regner's Ashley are again just happy to be along for the ride. Alexis Knapp's Stacie more or less sits this round out as she's pregnant and can't travel with the Bellas, but these deterrents don't dampen the idea of one final ride for the original Bellas as Aubrey's father and his connections get the A cappella group on an overseas USO tour where they have to compete with bands who use both their instruments and their voices for an opening spot on DJ Khaled's (playing himself) upcoming tour.
Crazily, that summary doesn't even seem to cover half of what happens in “Pitch Perfect 3.” I mean, I didn't even find time to mention the fact Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins are still hanging out providing commentary for whatever the Bellas decide to do next as well as making a documentary about the girls which signals they really shouldn't and don't need to be included in this movie, but hey-what are you going to do when Banks and Higgins are game? This idea that Cannon and her co-writer this time around, Mike White, feel the need to wedge certain things in from previous films is likely the biggest issue with the film. Sure, it is commendable that both writers desired to stray from the formula with which the first two movies followed and this works out for the most part as they throw in actual arcs for a few of the characters that end up forcing the film into all kinds of random directions. Namely, Wilson's Fat Amy who comes to be the cause of all the shenanigans happening in that opening sequence as her father (John Lithgow) makes his face, intentions, and accent very well-known. This sends “Pitch Perfect 3” in the most unexpected direction as I never imagined we'd have an A cappella movie that also included tightly choreographed action sequences, but Wilson proves her worth with more than just the laughs here as she highlights a sequence where Fat Amy disarms a handful of her father's bodyguards to save her teammates. This may sound like it could be a potentially disastrous direction for those who enjoyed the first two films largely due to the musical aspect, but rest assured there is plenty of music to go-around this time as well. It begins by playing upon the fact that any time the Bellas get together it requires an obligatory competition to make the endeavor worth their while, but while it seems that at first the USO tour is simply a conduit for the Bellas to once again stretch their vocal muscles the movie makes fun of itself once again by morphing the opportunity into that of the competition dealing in DJ Khaled's affairs. This new layer of the tour adds a resentment towards the group who only make music with their mouths from those who have worked hard to earn their spot at the table and aren't just there because daddy has a connection. The Bellas adversaries this time around largely consist of an all-female rock band that call themselves Evermoist (yes, you heard that right and you can bet your ass Wilson gets a great joke out of it). Evermoist, consisting of Ruby Rose along with Andy Allo, Venzella Joy, and Hannah Fairlight are only one of the musical acts sharing the tour though, as Trinidad James and D.J. Looney star as a rap duo and a country/rock outfit called Saddle Up also look to unseat the Bellas and their chance at true fame, but no one other than Evermoist ever stand to be a real threat as Rose's Calamity is as fleshed out as these antagonist's get (which isn't much).
Rather, “Pitch Perfect 3” tends to remain focused on its core group of Bellas more than anything else and making sure it sends each of the flagship members off in ways that fans can rest assured that each of them find a certain kind of peace in their space. Snow's Chloe gets something of a love interest in Chicago (Matt Lanter looking like Nick Lachey) as Camp's Aubrey largely deals in her daddy issues. This parallels Fat Amy's struggle with her own, selectively present father who carves out the biggest subplot of the feature. A moment does need to be taken to recognize just how much fun Lithgow is having with his role here. The veteran actor gets to put on a terrible Aussie accent that is so outlandish it can't be serious while, on top of that, frequently serenading Wilson's character with Chicago's "Hard to Say I'm Sorry". If that doesn't entice you I'm not sure what would. Of course, the biggest emphasis here is on Kendrick's Beca though, and her eventual rise to not only become the producer and songwriter she was always meant to be, but also the star she didn't know she could be. While any number of fans will be upset the Beca/Jesse dynamic no longer exists they will be happy to know that Beca is able to earn her spot among the elite she has been attempting to crack into since the first film when she wanted to circumvent college for such an experience. This is a full circle, loop back to the Beca we saw in the first film and to see her not only becoming who she always thought she'd become, but excelling at being in control of her own career is cool. That said, the movie does try to push a new love interest on the character in the form of Khaled's assistant coordinator, Theo (Guy Burnet looking like Adam Scott and Jim Sturgess had a baby), but Beca doesn't seem to want to deal with any part of that noise. Still, this playfulness that Beca exudes in her denials is reminiscent of what was seen between she and Jesse in the first film so all this kind of feels like a re-tread of familiar territory when, if they weren't going to bring back the original male cast, then they should have left such arcs well enough alone. Not that I'm mad Beca and Jesse didn't end up together or anything. All of that taken into consideration, “Step Up All In” director, Trish Sie, takes over for Banks this time around and can confect a concoction that delivers everything you'd expect from a “Pitch Perfect” flick and maybe even a little more in certain spots just to prove to the doubtful audience member they don't have this thing completely figured out yet. “Pitch Perfect 3” is essentially everything it is advertised as being though, and in that regard, it is a perfectly acceptable final piece of this A cappella puzzle. A weightless, but entertaining swan-song for a series that was never meant to be.