Back in 2012 I was majorly surprised by how much I enjoyed Pitch Perfect. As someone who has vehemently hated everything about Glee I didn’t necessarily see how it would be my thing. But I loved it. The cast was great, the script was funny, and the musical numbers were really good. I mean, yes, it did have that “isn’t the 80’s great” mentality that so many young people have these days but that was one of only few criticisms I had. I guess I just really like Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson enough to put up with. However, the second film was certainly pushing it for me. I still enjoyed that feeling of nostalgia and fun that remained but there wasn’t really a story there. It was just a rehash of the first one. Hell, if it had been a Star Wars film there would have been thousands of outraged fans campaigning for it to be removed from the canon. So, I have to admit, the idea of a third film didn’t really grab me. I wasn’t exactly rushing to see it, which is why I’ve only just got round to it. So was it as bad as I expected or was it worth the wait?
When Pitch Perfect came out in 2012 you wouldn’t necessarily have thought that it would be possible to make more films about an a capella group but here we are. Pitch Perfect 3 shows us that, no matter how flimsy the premise, it’s possible to stretch the shit out of it for financial gain. And it’s mostly thanks to Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. Oh, and that fucking cups song. But this time, at least, it’s aware of what is expected of it and doesn’t even try to pretend otherwise. If films were only as good as their sense of self-awareness then Pitch Perfect 3 would have won all the awards this year.
Unfortunately, a narrative cannot survive on its self of sense alone. If Pitch Perfect 2 was the unnecessary but fun sequel to a surprise hit then Pitch Perfect 3 is the unnecessary and unfunny sequel to a surprise hit. It’s official, the dead horse has been well and truly flogged by now. This time around, the Barden Bellas are back but living in the real world. They’ve left university and are slowly realising that, with their singing successes in the distant past, the real world is harder work. Adult life isn’t all about winning competitions and adulation. It’s hard work and awful people. When they are invited to a performance by the modern-day Bellas, the older girls quickly regain their desire to perform and relive their former glory.
So they set out on a European tour to entertain the troops and, because there’s always a competition, they find themselves competing to open for DJ Khaled at a later concert. Unfortunately, the group are competing with bands who play actual instruments. Their a capella doesn’t necessarily fit in to this world but they’ll continue to do what they do. But, really, this sequel isn’t really concerned about the music so the tour becomes nothing more than an excuse to have a grand tour around Europe. Something that becomes obvious when Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) long-lost father (John Lithgow) turns up to reconnect with her. Then there’s the matter of love interests, music producers, and a feud with a competing band that really goes nowhere. It’s a mess.
I mean it starts off on shaky ground thanks to the “three weeks later” caption that appears on-screen after an explosive opening. Not to sound like Morty in the Purge episode of Ricky and Morty, it’s just lazy and uninspired. And the rest of the film does nothing to convince us that the rest of the plot was written to allow this dramatic set-piece to take place. Somewhere over the years, somebody obviously came to the idea that the musical performances were not the thing people watched these films for. It means the singing and the competition take a back-seat to the more outlandish elements. And it’s a terrible decision. There is no real cohesive narrative here but just moments that are clumsily held together.
The only reason that this film works at all is the sheer charm of the cast and the occasional one-liner that really lands. All of the old gang do well at playing their characters, even if it just feels like they’re on auto-pilot right now. They aren’t really given the best material but they are all nice enough and work well together. It’s that same sense of nostalgia that makes you stay. Because there isn’t even the humour this time. I mean Kendrick is her usual sarcastic self and Wilson is as outrageous as you’d hope. But the script itself just isn’t as full of actual jokes. It’s all even more underwhelming than I was expecting.
The biggest problem, though? This film knows how shit it is but it genuinely seems to believe that making enough jokes about it is enough to make people ignore it. I’m all for the occasional in-joke and breaking-the-fourth-wall kind of comment but in Pitch Perfect 3 it just goes beyond humour. It’s just sad. Everything about this film made me sad. I was sad for the poor people being forced to make it; I was sad for the poor people who were watching it; and I was sad for the poor people who enjoyed it. It’s the kind of film that you know would have been better if it had just been one long blooper reel.