Synopsis – Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices.
My Take – The Barden Bellas are back once again for last chance at acapella glory! You have to admit, the Pitch Perfect series has been interesting beast to say the least, mainly as it is a franchise that really shouldn’t succeed even close to the levels it reaches. While first film released in 2012 was a sleeper hit, earning about $115.4 million against a $17 million budget, it’s 2015 sequel despite mixed reception ended up earning $287.5 million against a $29 million budget. Personally I really enjoyed the first film as it introduced the audience (like myself) to the unknown world of acapellas, a musical style of singing without the use of any instruments. The original is a rare film that you end up enjoying more on repeat watch, all thanks to it brilliant cast, writing, songs and a general good feeling that surrounds a film where all involved know they are creating something special. The sequel too repeated its success formula by aiming at an audience that’s good enough into girl power, raunchy humor/wisecracks, and the well-choreographed song/dance numbers, and of course throws in just enough of a story to grab enough attention from a general audience to prove itself viable. While, both the films parlayed a fun, disposable night out at the films to cable rewatchability, this threequel and possibly final installment, comes out as a one-and-done disappointment, mainly as the film lacks the plot and humor, along with the characters established no longer being as interesting as they once used to be. Seriously, it’s just sad to see how a series that arguably kick-started everything to end in such a lazy and uninspired way. Still, if you’re looking for mild entertainment and have grown with these characters and you really, really want to see this one, you may just get your money’s worth.
The story follows the Barden Bellas, a young women led cappella group from Barden University, who after graduating from college are caught-up in their average and miserable jobs. Especially Beca (Anna Kendrick), who loses her job as a music producer as she refused to cooperate with her manager, and Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), who while living with Beca, has been unsuccessfully hosting her own street corner shows singing Amy Winehouse mix ups and Chloe (Brittany Snow) is applying to vet school. Upon being invited for a reunion by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), the Bellas (which also includes Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean and Alexis Knapp) realize how much they miss singing together. However, an opportunity comes knocking when Aubrey (Anna Camp), the group’s former leader, gets them an invite for a USO tour across Europe set up by her military based father. Once they arrive they soon realize the tour is more than just fun and games, as the lead performer, DJ Khaled, is seemingly hunting for a new opening act from the tour members and the girls will be pitted against Saddle Up and Evermoist (led by Ruby Rose), bands with actual instruments for the top slot. As the gals gear up for competition, Fat Amy bumps into her father (John Lithgow), a reunion that winds up being less than ideal for her and the group. Directed by Trish Sie (Step Up All In), and written by Kay Cannon (who also wrote the first two films) along with Mike White (School of Rock), this film is pretty much billed as the last one and yet it’s actually a really weak ending; one that goes out on a whimper. This film is a great example of how franchise owners foolishly believe that a returning cast can re-create magic time after time, even when given a lame plot, script and new weak supporting characters, this film only shows how wrong this approach is. Rebel Wilson was clearly considered by the producers to be a comic genius in the first film but clearly gave us her best lines (about 2 of them) back in the first film. The basic problem is that in trying to go out on a high, the discipline of the first film is lost to self-indulgent terrible adlibbing and a weak plot centered on Wilson as an action hero and yes, the Fat Amy jokes never worked and they don’t here either. As it happens, almost every element of the film feels like it’s been neglected for some other, more important story that never materializes. Comedy-wise, there are some funny running gags: Fat Amy’s unfounded disdain for Emily; the continuing presence of the eternally superfluous Jessica (Kelley Jakle) and Ashley (Shelley Regner); and a general irreverence for series hallmarks like competitive riff-offs, female bonding, and music-nerd romance. But as fun as it is to see Beca swat away a Solo cup in reference to the surprise radio hit from the first film and swat away her laugh lines like they’re an imposition (she can make even nonchalance pretty appealing), the film seems more concerned with shrugging off its legacy than engaging with it.
Rather than push more jokes about its narrative formulas, the film proceeds with a halfhearted, ginned-up rivalry between the Bellas and an intimidating, snobby rock band, the filmmakers’ ideas of which are downright bizarre: girl-group rhyming names (Chastity, Calamity, etc.) and circa-2004 punk-pop. Naturally, the script has made room for the competitive element. A sequence showing the Bellas challenging some other group to match them in their own improvisational invention – the riff-off – is a series essential, and once again, the stakes are high. That’s all the Bellas need to once again pretend to be the scrappy underdogs, because if there’s one thing the troops will absolutely despise on sight, it’s pretty young women covering songs they already know. The film doesn’t even seem convinced; the Bellas’ first performance gets interrupted toward its end, and then there’s a cut to the girls aghast at what a disaster it was. Sure, the film that tries to be very different, by offering everyone only a small reprieve from their humdrum life of anonymity, to once again capture the glory days. The film doesn’t resolve this thread nor give us an alternative worth reaching for. Instead it merely establishes as a point of fact that life after college sucks. Oh well, might as well sing about it. It just feels like too much of a departure from the first two films in terms of story. While the first film was all about the transition to college and branching out in the world, while the second was about diving deeper into that experience and bonding with friends, here, though never in line for an Oscar nomination, a story arc was indeed in play here. This film was supposed to be about coming together after college is over and being a bit lost in life (as many young people feel at this point in time). Sadly, that opportunity is wasted by a script that doesn’t try nearly as hard as it should to continue the story arc. What results is a jumbled mess, punctuated by just enough musical numbers to keep it watchable for even the hard-core fans. With a thinner, sillier story than ever before, the threequel is left with its twin pillars of appeal: musical performances by the core cast, and shtick, also by the core cast. The songs, specifically the melded “sing-off” between The Bellas and girl-punk band Evermoist does have its charm once you get over the tonal whiplash. To my bitter disappointment, certain beloved characters do not make a return in the trilogy, including Bumper, Jesse and Benji. Apart from these sad losses, the majority of the cast are back together. I was particularly happy to see the comic duo John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks), who follow the girls around on their travels, filming a documentary. Performances wise, Anna Kendrick, as the main focus of the group, being a talented actress, manages to hold her own despite an unsure plot line. Brittney Snow remains the pretty and very likable girl next door. Rebel Wilson can be really funny, especially when the script supports her, however, here an unnecessary arc throws her off balance. Despite little screen time Hailee Steinfeld and Anna Camp do fairly well in growing their respective roles. In small roles, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Ruby Rose, John Lithgow, Andy Allo, Matt Lanter, Shelley Regner, Kelley Jakle and DJ Khaled are alright. On the whole, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is a disappointing end to a series, which despite a few enjoyable moments misses everything that made its predecessors so successful.
Directed – Trish Sie
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 93 minutes