Hits all the right notes, better than it should: "Pitch Perfect 3" movie review

The 2012 comedy Pitch Perfect, a movie about a college acapella group, should never have been a megahit, considering the low profile of acapella competitions at the time. But the film, directed by Jason Moore, became so surprisingly popular that it spawned a franchise. The latest installment, Pitch Perfect 3, directed by Trish Sie, repeats that “shouldn’t work but does” success. The combination of new and old, the high points and even the low – all of it works to create another hit.

Pitch Perfect 3 sufficiently moves the story beyond college by opening with the Bellas’ post-grad lives. Reflecting a reality most actual 20-somethings face, the girls are either unemployed, struggling to achieve their dreams, or seemingly have it all together but aren’t as happy as hoped for. The group is drawn back together by a party invitation from Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), the younger member introduced in Pitch Perfect 2, who is still a Barden University Bella.

Reunited, they realize how much they miss performing together, so they decide then and there to join a USO entertainment tour. It’s a chance to relive their glory days, and to simply do what they love: sing. Anyone with an underutilized passion can appreciate that desire, and thus, readily jump on board with the Bellas’ quest.

Through the ensuing adventure, elements of the series formula remain, because why fix what isn’t broken? Pitch Perfect 3 successfully uses the same wide variety of music, as well as comedy – from bathroom humor to politics, and sexual innuendos, to stereotypes. The ensemble cast is as stellar as ever – led by Anna Kendrick (Beca), Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy), Brittany Snow (Chloe) and Anna Camp (Aubrey). The excellently zany commentators Gail and John (Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins) also return, with their comical anti-Bella remarks, and John’s matter-of-fact sexism met with Gail’s scornful-but-blasé reaction. Most jokes – especially the worst of John’s women-bashing – should probably not be easily swallowed, but yet are plenty laughable thanks to the series’ trademark dry, casual delivery laden with self-awareness.

The fact that the movie never takes itself too seriously helps nullify its few shortcomings, which primarily stem from new creative choices. For example, competition is still a factor – the Bellas face off against other USO performers for the honor of opening for DJ Khaled (as himself, his over-the-top persona a perfect fit for the Bella world) at the grand finale concert. An all-girl rock band called Evermoist (led by actress Ruby Rose) emerges as the chief rival among the opponents. The beloved riff-off scene returns as well, in the form of the Bellas challenging the bands, hoping it will boost their confidence, as they find themselves out of their element against real musicians with instruments.

However, the competition stakes aren’t as high as in the past, and the focus is more on the Bellas themselves than musical rivalries – which means that Evermoist isn’t even the main antagonist. As such, their screen time is limited. The film doesn’t need a nemesis, but the underuse of the effortlessly charismatic Ruby Rose feels like a slight.

The main antagonist is instead one of the Bellas’ parents, who enacts a greed-fueled evil plan. This action-genre plotline is clearly meant to be a refreshing new direction for the franchise. It is indeed refreshing, and certainly fun, but given the film’s short runtime, the story feels wrapped up just minutes after it begins. In a lesser movie, this digression would seem an unnecessary, even cheesy – a twist for the sake of a twist. But somehow, it works in Pitch Perfect 3 as just another ridiculous piece of a playfully goofy puzzle.

Another new angle in Pitch Perfect 3 involves romance. Instead of one or two core romances as in the past, there were a few only lightly explored. It feels like a tease, but it’s clear in the end that the filmmakers know it’s cliché, so you accept what’s given and join in on the joke.

The final somewhat frustrating element is that contrary to characters in most series, although they grow as a group, the Bellas don’t evolve much as individuals, besides some fleshed out backstories and an overview of their futures. Beca is still as private and anti-touchy-feely, Amy still as weird and confident, Audrey still as control-needy, and Chloe still as Bella-centric (and slightly sexually curious about Beca) as ever. It’s reasonable to wish they’d evolved more, but perhaps if they weren’t the same people we met five years ago, they wouldn’t have maintained the dynamic that makes them so darn loveable.

In the end, it’s the Bellas that we came back a third time for. The same old tricks and traits, the new people and plotlines – all that matters is how much we love the characters. And in Pitch Perfect 3, the jokes and hijinks are too funny, and the cast is too endearing to let anything get in the way of the delightful fun to be had throughout the movie. Sadly, it was presented as the final installment of the franchise – there’s even a montage of series-wide behind-the-scenes photos during the credits, to really give you the sense that it’s over. If so, that would be an aca-tragedy but at least the final ride was aca-awesome.

Catch Pitch Perfect 3 in theaters now.

Hits all the right notes, better than it should: "Pitch Perfect 3" movie review
  • Hits all the right notes, better than it should: "Pitch Perfect 3" movie review
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