Director: Trish Sie
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow
There’s a moment during the obligatory mid-film montage in Pitch Perfect 3 in which director Trish Sie openly recalls the musical number geometry of Busby Berkeley in the 1930s. It’s a fond cine-literate homage that lifts up this sprightly paced collage of passing time, yet it is also pretty much the exception to the rule. Nobody was expecting Pitch Perfect 3 to cater to cinephiles or to even draw particular attention to itself. That’s not the function of a film like this. But the borderline incompetence of this final installment in the series is much less than the characters and fans deserve.
Elizabeth Banks helmed the last picture, two years ago. It was her directing debut and she played it safe, and who can blame her. The results were occasionally middling and a little overlong but it was a passable ride overall; never meeting the singularity of the first movie, but hardly tarnishing it. Pitch Perfect 3, however, is that most infuriating of codas; one that offers closure for those who have fallen deeply for these characters. but which rarely provides it, more often swerving into disarming stupidity where laughs are conspicuously absent.
The Bellas have left college, they’ve gone their separate ways (mostly) and life has done its thing. But when Becca (Anna Kendrick) quitting her job coincides with a flimsy reunion with her former a cappella friends, the entire group walk out of their lives to go on a USO show tour of Europe, where they’ll get to compete with two made-up bands to win the opportunity to open for DJ Khaled (himself), all because Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) absentee father is able to pull some strings. Acca-scuse me?
Okay, it’s flimsy, what of it? This is a light comedy franchise after all in which plot points are expected to arbitrarily lead us from number to number. Except it isn’t that. Pitch Perfect became a smash because it valued the scenes in between. They were important too, and they obeyed a level of logic. Sie’s film doesn’t feel as though it exists in the same universe as the previous two films. Disposable as they may have been, they were still relatable pictures that reflected a glossier yet familiar facade of the real world. Pitch Perfect 3 abandons this sensibility for the kind of lazy loopiness more commonly associated with the Fast & Furious franchise. Bumper and the boys from the The Treblemakers have been bumped from the series altogether. This in itself isn’t a major cause for outcry, but it does send up a red flag that we’re headed off the map this time around.
Change can be refreshing (cough The Last Jedi cough), but Pitch 3 veers into some weird places that don’t fit with the prior dynamic. The opening of the film reveals a flashback framework and places the girls in an explosive action setting aboard a yacht. This strand of the story is connected to Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and her dastardly absentee father (theme) played by John Lithgow. Lithgow has previously proven good at more or less anything, but an Australian accent is not something he seems comfortable with. But now I’m just assuming. Maybe his character really is supposed to be from wherever Dick Van Dyke was from in Mary Poppins? Regardless the eleventh hour riff on, of all things, Taken, feels like an act of desperation from screenwriter Kay Cannon. Pitch 3 feels like a rush job, as though the quick decision has been made over the right decision on, frankly, several occasions. So clumsy is its construction, most of the secondary characters’ vague subplots are wrapped up in the end credits as a series of embarrassing post-scripts.
Cannon does do right by Becca, however. Having built an arc and a passion for Kendrick’s character, Pitch 3 follows it through, as she faces the opportunity to move from behind the mixing desk and into the limelight, embracing her potential to be the face of the music she loves to create. This is more or less the movie’s only saving grace. It’s clear highlight features Becca by herself, getting lost in her love while a chaotic (and farcical) celebrity bash goes on behind her. She is oblivious, lost in play. A romantic subplot with a nondescript triangle-faced PA to DJ Khaled fizzles out as soon as it starts, but Becca’s ambitions (which started this whole thing) are allowed appropriate spotlight. Even if the inevitable curtain call for all (remaining) players somewhat dampens the moment.
Sie brings this all in at an admirable 93 minutes, yet things still feel stretched thin because in the main the material isn’t there. The laughs aren’t there. I attended a sold-out screening and, for a comedy feature, it was awkwardly quiet. You could sense the disengagement; of a couple hundred teenagers trying to resist the urge to switch their phones back on. Dishearteningly, the magic just isn’t there this time. For all its overt attempts to be zany, Pitch 3 lost its audience’s attention and I think because it lost the core of what made the first film feel like such a treat. Pitch Perfect was wry, woke, lovably gross with just the right amount of underlying mean streak (vomit-angels, anyone?) and it was about character relations not goofy situations. There’s nothing in Pitch Perfect 3 that you haven’t seen in another movie, no surprises to be had, other than the strangeness of having these things happen in this movie. This movie where reality just doesn’t exist. It renders this send-off inane and therefore dull. The bad wholly eclipses the good. It’s a shame it had to end this way but, Kendrick and Wilson aside, Pitch Perfect 3 is acca-mpelling argument for quitting while you’re ahead.
Yes, I’m really sorry for that last sentence.