Film Review: Pitch Perfect 3

The Bellas become action stars (of sorts) in a sequel that fails to hit the high notes of the first movie, but which nonetheless delivers laughs.
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This third and seemingly final (you never can tell) installment in the saga of the Barton Bellas a cappella group is the flashiest of the franchise. There are offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, explosions onboard yachts and—most shocking of all—instruments on stage. Bigger is rarely better, of course, and Pitch Perfect 3 falls short in charm and narrative coherence of 2012’s Pitch Perfect. Still, writers Kay Cannon and Mike White are masters of the one-liner and they do their darndest to ensure you know they know that we all know this is the silliest of stuff. Once again, contemporary pop songs and jokes about social awkwardness prove an undoubtedly entertaining combination.

Save for Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), all of the Bellas whom we have grown to love over the past five years have graduated from Barton and are struggling to find their places in the real world. Just about all of them hate their jobs and would do anything to relive their college glory days and perform as an a cappella group once again. Beca (Anna Kendrick) in particular is disillusioned by what should have been her dream job as a music producer.

Luckily, Aubrey’s (Anna Camp) military father, whose harsh words of advice are a staple of his daughter’s conversation and neuroses, can secure the former Bellas a spot on an international USO tour to entertain the troops. This wouldn’t be a Pitch Perfect without a competition, however, as the characters themselves point out in one of many meta-reflections. As it turns out, the Bellas will be touring with real-life hip-hop impresario DJ Khaled and three other bands. At the end of the tour, Khaled will choose one group to open for him. Almost immediately the Bellas are intimidated by the competition, an all-girl collective named Evermoist (fronted by Ruby Rose) especially. When the dodgy father (played by John Lithgow) of Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) shows up, things really start to get complicated. Filming it all for a doc-a-mentary are our faithful announcers John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks). They don’t film much and only pop in every now and again, but they’re as much a part of the story as Becca and Fat Amy, plus they’re funny, so, whatever.

That’s a thought that may occur frequently while watching PP3: Well, whatever. It would be easy to quibble the film to death. Many new characters are introduced only to hang about half-formed, including a hunky soldier who acts as the girls’ escort, the sexy-sneering ladies of Evermoist, a strange rapper who flirts with the strangely near-silent Bella, and an attractive music exec on Khaled’s team who has a thing for Beca. Evermoist in particular is framed as a major antagonist only to fall by the wayside as other, bigger, kookier concerns take over. Any one of these threads could have made for a strong subplot in its own right, but all together they prove a mishmash of bits and gags. But because this is a comedy, the film gets away with its scattered elements, though only just. In the end, it is the Bellas’ story and everyone who is not in the gang is something of a prop to be used by it.

Smartly, the story has aged with its characters. The streak of earnestness that runs through all the films and which was done best in the first movie with the Benji (Ben Platt of “Dear Evan Hansen”) and Jesse (Skylar Astin) characters, both absent here and sorely missed, focuses on the girls’ bumpy transition into adulthood. This tale of Millennials being forced to face adulthood is as timely as the movie’s soundtrack and its emphasis on sisterhood.  But after turning Fat Amy into an action hero, there aren’t many more places for the franchise to go. Heaven forfend a Bad Moms angle should be taken for any Pitch Perfect 4. Let this be indeed their final song.

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