Pitch Perfect 3 is a bad movie. It’s not horrible but it’s not really that good either. To be fair, though, if you loved the other two you’re more than likely love this one, too. I find myself in the limbo of having loved the first and having no memory of seeing the second one.
The Pitch Perfect movies, much like the Police Academy movies, understand that if you’re watching the movie you’re probably already a fan. Pitch Perfect 3 is more interested in pleasing the fans it already has. It doesn’t take itself all too seriously and instead it gives into its own nuttiness with manic glee.
Kay Cannon and Mike White do some surprising seemingly effortless plot gymnastics. The Barden Bellas are invited to what they mistakenly believe is a reunion. In reality, it’s an end of the year show put on by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the graduating class. The Bellas show up in their iconic preppy uniforms only to discover they are not expected to sing but to watch.
Despondent with life and embarrassed by the misunderstanding, the girls get drunk and reminisce about their glory days. Aubrey (Anna Camp) proposes a radical idea: the girls should come together one last time for a USO tour. Aubrey’s father is a Colonel after all. Off they go only to discover once more they’ll have to prove themselves once again. The tour, it turns out, consists entirely of cover bands.
The whole thing is absurd, but so what? It’s a musical. It’s not nearly as absurd or insane as say an average episode of Glee. Pitch Perfect 3 is so convoluted it borders on outright fantastical realism but no more than say Guys and Dolls. Getting the band back together is hardly the most outrageous thing a musical has ever tried to do.
Now, the B story involving Patricia (Rebel Wilson) and her absentee-bond-villainous-Australian-father Fergus (John Lithgow); that is bizarre. In a way, I kind of admire Trisha Sie and her writers for going that extra wack-a-doodle mile. Wilson and Lithgow play off each other beautifully. It’s a wonderfully weird estranged yet feuding father daughter relationship. It’s a funny joke but like most of the scenes in the movie it feels rushed.
Pitch Perfect 3 suffers from a glut of characters and not enough screen time to deal with them. Within the core cast alone there are roughly eleven characters. Now add a pop country band, a pop rock band, and a hip hop duo and the number begins to swell into the high teens. This doesn’t include Chloe’s (Brittany Snow) or Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) love interest. Add in Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) as the pseudo Greek chorus and the number of characters breaks into the low twenties.
With all these characters, Pitch Perfect 3 often seems at a loss as to what to do with them. Pitch Perfect 3 at best spends most of its time treading water. The other bands on tour are hardly given any personality except for Ever Moist lead by Calamity (Ruby Rose). Although using the word personality feels a bit generous. They’re more of an attitude than an of actual set of characters. Sie goes back and forth between Beca chasing her dream and Patricia’s antics with her father as they vacillate between making amends or becoming blood enemies. The rest of the characters feel as if they spend most of the movie off screen waiting for their cue for the next number.
The Beca story hits an interesting albeit sort of cliche snag. The USO tour doubles as a competition for finding DJ Kahled’s next opening act. Lo and behold he has chosen Beca, and Beca alone, as the winner. The “lead singer being offered a record deal if only she leaves her bandmates behind” cliche is as old as the genre itself. Except Beca has never wanted to be a singer. She’s wanted to be the person behind the singer. It seems odd that her story would inevitably lead her to the one place she never wanted to go. But in some sense it’s fitting since most people don’t end up where they thought they would.
I do appreciate that throughout the Pitch Perfect franchise the goal for Beca has always been either personal or professional but never romantic. Getting the guy at the end has never been the crowning achievement. The Beca and Chloe relationship is still rife with subtext. Although with this one they seem to have tipped from undertones to overtones.
It’s clear that everyone involved is having fun. But sometimes there exists a dissonance between the fun the film people are having and the fun the audience is having. I wanted to like film but there was never enough time spent on any one story for me to get all that invested. I like the idea of what Sie and her writers have done. It’s not as if I was ever really bored but saying I was entertained seems a bit of a stretch.