The original Pitch Perfect was a surprising delight from 2012, combining a clever script with a talented cast and poppy a cappella mash-ups of hit songs. A sequel was an obvious financial choice, but while Pitch Perfect 2 reunited the cast, gave them new songs to cover, and even an original number with Jessie J’s “Flashlight”, it played it safe by following the structure of the first film a little too closely. For the third and final outing of the Barden Bellas director Trish Sie enables the series to veer in new directions, poking fun at its own conventions even if it does stray a little too off-topic towards the end.
With most of the Bellas several years out of college (excluding Haylee Steinfeld as Emily) there’s no real excuse for them to sing together anymore, so as one last hurrah former group-leader Chloe (Brittany Snow) manages to get the group into a USO performance thanks to her Army Officer father’s connections. While it seems for a moment like Pitch Perfect 3 will avoid the traditional concert-competition structure of the first two films, it’s soon revealed that DJ Khaled is organising the USO tour and watching the various bands to find a new opening act. This prompts some refreshingly self-aware humour when the Bellas meet their completion, quickly forming a new rivalry against punk-rock girl band ‘Evermoist’ lead by Clamity (Ruby Rose), and realise that the methods they’ve used to distinguish themselves in previous performances fall flat against musicians who use actual instruments. The series staple of the ‘riff-off’ returns and provokes some of the best music and jokes in the film, with stylistic twists on hits such as Beyonce’s “If I were a boy” and Cranberries “Zombie” while the Bellas complain that the other bands aren’t playing according to their arbitrary rules. Scenes such as this and other self-referential moments suggest that Pitch Perfect 3 will provide a playful twist on the franchise’s formulas while staying true to the core themes of female friendship and artistic creativity, but unfortunately it veers wildly into another direction halfway through and loses focus.
After spending three films with the Bellas the characters are pretty well established, and the cast slips back into their roles without a weak link. Even the members who have the defining trait of never being acknowledged by the main characters have their own comedic moments. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the popular supporting role, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy ends up dominating too much of the main plot’s focus. There was a real opportunity to explore the conflict between the Bellas and more professional bands as they struggle to move on from their origins as a University group, but Kay Cannon and Mike White’s screenplay quickly drops these elements and most of the new characters to instead explore Amy’s relationship with her criminal father. John Lithgow’s appalling attempt to do an Australian accent only demonstrates that Hollywood’s perception of us really hasn’t gone much further than 1986’s Crocodile Dundee, and the bizarre action-comedy climax this plotline provokes feels like a cheap attempt to set up a Fat Amy spin-off film. Even though Pitch Perfect 3 tries to give off the impression it’s in on the joke and aware of its own ridiculousness, the absurdity of the whole thing swallows up the rest of the film. Any adult drama that may have been built up as protagonist Becca struggles with what steps to make in her career is somewhat lost when her best friend is off attacking armed thugs with kielbasa, even if Anna Kendrick is as endearing as ever.
I got the sense that the team behind Pitch Perfect 3 knew how they wanted to end the series but not how to properly execute it. The Bellas are given an appropriately sentimental send-off that is quite sweet if you’ve stayed with these characters over three films, even if the script barely attempts to justify the return of John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks’s commentator roles. The musical numbers are catchy and well performed but lack the creative simplicity of the first film’s famous ‘Cups’ number or the sequel’s emotional Championship Finale. For the third film of a trilogy that should have never been a franchise it’s more fun than it could have been, but hopefully this remains the final curtain call for the Barton Bellas.