When you were younger, I’ll bet you said, “Awww, do I hafta?!” whenever you were asked to do something you didn’t want to do. Taking out the trash, doing your homework, being nice to your brother, eating your lima beans. Whatever it was, you wound up doing it kinda begrudgingly and somewhat exaggerated, making a big show of your supposed “inconvenience.”
Yup, this sentiment pretty much nails the tone of Pitch Perfect 3. Instead of being full of the swing and vigor of the preceding two films, we’re dosed with a fairly perfunctory third film which, at least, provides satisfying closure as the Bellas head into the sunset. The film’s problem isn’t in its finality; it’s how they get there which makes the film uneven and trying at times.
Much like Pitch Perfect 2 cadged moments from the original, we find the Bellas – looking for one last hurrah to kick them into post-college life – starting the cycle of failure and success all over again. Series writer Kay Cannon, now joined by School of Rock scribe Mike White, seems to have emptied her bag of tricks, turning to more extravagant situations in which to throw our heroes. I mean, the movie starts off with a yacht explosion, for God’s sakes – freeze-framing Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) behind the action movie-style, slanted font title card.
It’s these kinds of hijinks which Pitch Perfect 3 aspires to, but never really achieves. The first two were goofy spoofs of John Hughes-type films and didn’t take themselves seriously; this third one attempts to shoehorn that vibe into showing the Bellas maturing and progressing. Pitch Perfect 3 wants us to believe in the Bellas growing past their college selves, but they only give it to us in one of the closing scenes, rushing to tie everything off in a matter of two minutes. It doesn’t help matters that director Trish Sie couldn’t seem to get more meaningful performances from her actors, most of whom wind up looking like they’re walking through their parts, wishing they could be somewhere else.
Throughout Pitch Perfect 3, we’re treated to exactly three storylines: the Bellas’ final performances, which wind up being part of a competition masquerading as a USO tour; Beca’s music career; and the sudden reappearance of Amy’s father Fergus (John Lithgow, sporting a mean Aussie accent). Cannon and White’s script mercilessly bounces us between these plots, paying no mind to the other Bellas and making them figure less into the proceedings.
Let’s call these forgotten Bellas what they really are: afterthoughts. Little things like Chloe’s (Brittany Snow) attraction to military escort Chicago (Matt Lanter), Lilly’s (Hana Mae Lee) lust for a DJ on the tour, Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) lack of paternal affection, and Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner) continuing their running joke of being pointless sidewomen – they’re the equivalent of a deleted scenes montage on a DVD.
Flo (Chrissie Fit), the odd duck of Pitch Perfect 2, doesn’t get much of a chance to be odd, save for a few racially-tinged comments. Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is forced into being the target of Amy’s misdirected one-note ire. Not even the surprise of the series, Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is given much to do, outside of hearing she’s a failed airline pilot. And Stacie (Alexis Knapp) is written off almost completely, appearing in only two scenes of the entire film.
[Side note: it’s kind of awful that the non-white characters are silent (Lilly), only capable of flinging stereotypical invectives (Flo), or given almost no lines (Cynthia Rose). As if we didn’t have enough of POC actors getting the short shrift, this installment almost nullifies their presence entirely, in contrast to their memorable contributions – both on-screen and musically (Ester Dean wrote the closing credits song for Pitch Perfect 2) – in the previous films.]
All the hallmarks of the Pitch Perfect series come to pass: the initial get-together and failure, the bonding moment which suddenly clarifies the Bellas’ meaning to each other, and the blowout final performance. The inclusion of Let’s Talk-Apella hosts John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) as intrusive documentarians and commentators solidifies this film’s hit-or-miss attempt at bottling lightning a third time. Once a vital part of the films, John and Gail are nothing but annoyances with little to add comedically or thematically.
Yes, the Bellas have reached their end. They’re leaving their a capella lives behind in search of their place in the world and meaning beyond their glory days. With Pitch Perfect 3, they may finally get what they’re looking for – a memory to last a lifetime. It’s unfortunate that, unlike the previous two outings, the memory of this film won’t last as long.