There are red flags aplenty in Pitch Perfect 3 well before the film rolls into its third act. It pulls an obvious Sunset Boulevard on us in its opening scene. It apathetically either writes out of the narrative or relegates to the periphery a percentage of its ensemble cast. The narrative itself is flimsy, and instead of compensating for said flimsiness (or having the decency to drum up a solid script in the first place), screenwriters Kay Cannon and Mike White make a bunch of meta-jokes about it. Everything about Pitch Perfect 3’s foundation is openly half-baked. If it winked at its own indifference anymore than it already does, you might mistake its indifference for outright contempt.
In short: The Barden Bellas have graduated and moved on from singing in a college a cappella group, and they’re all pretty bummed. Chloe (Brittany Snow) is trying to get into veterinary school. Aubrey (Anna Camp) is still running her booby-trapped retreat. Flo (Chrissie Fit) is running her own mobile organic juice truck franchise. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) continues to contribute nothing to anything. And Beca (Anna Kendrick), the only Bella whose future we’re actually conditioned to care about, is working an unsatisfactory job producing tracks for no-talent hack rappers who don’t respect her talent (mostly because her talent far outmatches theirs). Given the chance to get together with the younger generation of Bellas, led by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), they concoct a contrived excuse to hop on board a USO tour through Europe, leading to an even more contrived competition among the tour’s music acts to land a spot as the opener for DJ Khaled.
Here’s a thought for Pitch Perfect 3’s authors and collaborators: If half the reason you feel bothered to make a movie is to capitalize on its predecessors’ boffo box office takes, you’d best come up with a really good half-reason for your fans to buy a ticket aside from hearing the hits for a third time running. When you wind up devoting large portions of your screenplay to acknowledging the lack of a better reason for the Bellas to traipse through “Europe” singing their normal coterie of mash-ups and stumbling into awkward misadventures (involving, among other things, rampaging bees), then you have a problem.
At least Cannon and White sorta kinda admit it, though their pseudo-honesty only shows us just how dishonest the movie actually is. The gags about Pitch Perfect 3’s fabricated plotting don’t take the sting out of its implausibility; they add to it. Granted, the Pitch Perfect movies have always been about underdogs overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and winning the day (plus the favor of their audiences). Each of them, to an extent, relies on plot conveniences. But Pitch Perfect 3 asks us not only to lower our threshold for suspending disbelief, but to lower our expectations, too. The Bellas have lowered their expectations for life post-college, after all. It’s only fair that we do the same, right?
Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t all bad; it’s just mostly so. The music hits home, whether sung by the Bellas or by their instrumental rivals: country group Saddle Up, rap duo Young Sparrow and DJ Dragon Nutz, and the rock band Evermoist, led by Calamity (Ruby Rose), rounded out by Serenity (Andy Allo), Charity (Venzella Joy), and Veracity (Hannah Fairlight). (Aside: Beca’s sexual confusion jokes from Pitch Perfect 2 feel wasted in light of Ruby Rose’s presence here.) Of course, if a Pitch Perfect movie only does one thing well, that one thing should be the music.
But then again, Pitch Perfect should be about character, too, and while Pitch Perfect 3 technically covers some of that ground, the directions it takes them boggle the mind. Amy, for instance, reunites with her long-absent criminal father, inexplicably played by John Lithgow. (For the record, this is the most bizarre 2017 casting decision since David Thewlis played Ares.) On the sidelines, Aubrey pines for the love of her father, a high-level military operative credited with killing Osama bin Laden. Lithgow’s role is little more than a doorway for a sustained Taken riff that has no real payoff, while the rest of the characters prickle each other with personal japes that fit in the last two films but by now feel totally out of place. Even Beca’s quest for professional success in the musical industry plays flat, an empty continuation of her arc from Pitch Perfect 2.
Pitch Perfect 3 gives itself nothing to hang a story on. Worse, it does the inverse of its sister films, disempowering its characters rather than empowering them. (The second joke about women aging out of life after 30 is one joke too many.) Call it aca-awful, aca-trocious, ap-aca-lyptic or aca-palling. Whatever cute play on words you settle on to describe its failings, make sure to call it a major disappointment, too.
Director: Trish Sie
Writer: Kay Cannon, Mike White
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Chrissie Fit, Ester Dean, Hanna Mae Lee, John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, John Lithgow, Ruby Rose, DJ Khaled
Release Date: December 22, 2017
Boston-based pop culture critic Andy Crump has been writing about film and television online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste since 2013. He also writes words for The Playlist, WBUR’s The ARTery, Slant Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter, Polygon, Thrillist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.