Mark Reviews Movies

Pitch Perfect 3


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Trish Sie

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hailee Steinfeld, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, John Lithgow, Guy Burnet, Matt Lanter, Alexis Knapp, DJ Khaled

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, language and some action)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 12/22/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 22, 2017

As surprising and unlikely as it may seem, the third time is finally and most definitely the charm for this series. There has always been something undeniably weird about the Pitch Perfect movies. In the previous two entries, though, the stranger elements always seemed to be forced upon what was, essentially, a standard sort of competition plot, about a group of underdogs whose differences form a strength that wins out in the end. Those elements were also off-putting, especially when it came to certain characters, who were aggressive in their quirks to the point of being unbearable or just unlikeable.

In this latest installment, Kay Cannon and Mike White's screenplay builds the series' usually occasional weirdness into the plot. It's a subtle but significant change—one that makes the characters' quirkiness consistent with the narrative. Pitch Perfect 3, for example, finally finds something that makes the series' inexplicably break-out favorite Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) sympathetic. Even the below-a-whisper-quiet and possibly psychopathic Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) seems relatively normal this time around. The film trains us from the start to expect something different and exponentially wackier in terms of its plot, and well, the effort to make it different and wackier actually pays off.

The film opens, naturally, with a song and, unexpectedly, with a bang. The Bellas, now graduated from college and approaching 30 with nothing of note to say about their lives, are on a yacht somewhere in Europe. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is leading them in an acapella cover of a pop song, as is their typical way (The vocal orchestration of the tune even sounds a bit like a spy-movie score, which instantly clues us in to something different). Amy crashes through a glass ceiling, allowing the Bellas to escape overboard before the boat explodes.

This is not what we expect at the start of the third installment of a series of movies about a singing group that keeps getting involved in competitions. There's another competition in this one, but Cannon and White seem to realize that such a setup is, at this point, a requirement for the series. In this one, a new character explains the rules of this contest without taking a breath. We already know it, and even the Bellas seem bored with their fated routine. "That's a lot of exposition," one of them says after the setup has been recited.

This attitude is consistent and comes as a pleasant surprise. It's one that suggests the screenwriters and director Trish Sie don't care about our expectations. It's an inherent realization that the plots of these movies don't matter, and if that's the case, why shouldn't they play around with and poke fun at those conventions here?

At the start, the former Bellas have become disenchanted with the real world in their years since college. Beca is living her dream as a record producer, but it's tedious working with ungrateful, egocentric, and talentless artists (A montage shows that career unhappiness and failures are a constant with the rest of the group). She quits, just in time for a Bella reunion that turns out to be a performance by the current, college-aged acapella group, led by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld). Realizing that their glory days are past them but wanting a final shot at reclaiming some success, Aubrey (Anna Camp) contacts her father, an Army officer, and gets the Bellas a gig participating in a USO tour of Europe—from Spain to Italy to France.

The competition comes as a surprise to the Bellas. DJ Khaled (playing himself) is auditioning the Bellas and three other groups—a country band, a hip-hop duo, and an indie rock group—to open for him at the tour's final performance. The Bellas' old glory is even further away from them. The other acts have instruments and equipment, and their attempts to "riff-off" against the competition turn them into a joke ("Why do we keep doing that," one asks, "when we always seem to lose?").

It has been a struggle to find a connection to some of these characters, but the film finds the right sympathetic note with the group's collective uncertainty and frustration with where their lives have taken them. Amy receives a subplot in which her absentee father Fergus (John Lithgow) arrives to make amends after his criminal activity sent Amy running from her old life. Beca connects with Theo (Guy Burnet), an executive for Khaled's record label, and gets to return to her old ways of mixing music on the fly. That relationship is kept mostly professional (on her part, for sure), which is a nice change of pace.

The romance belongs to Chloe (Brittany Snow), who's smitten with the soldier (played by Matt Lanter) in charge of the group's security, and Lilly, who finds half of the hip-hop duo to be just as strange as—if not stranger than—herself. Meanwhile, the seasoned acapella commentators (played by Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins) are making a documentary about the Bellas—a process that looks more like stalking from the get-go.

The rest of the film has a "Let's put on a show" attitude that actually seems to care about the music and the performances, which always, quite oddly, has been a shortcoming of this series. The instrumental bands give the cover-heavy, to-and-fro soundtrack a little kick. On paper, this seems like a lot of the same, but Pitch Perfect 3 possesses a rebellious spirit that prevents it from becoming just more of the same.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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