Pitch Perfect 3 marks the end of an era for the Barden Bellas. As all good things must come to an end with the holiday season, the Pitch Perfect franchise likewise reaches the end of its own journey. Unfortunately, the franchise ends on somewhat of a low note after the highs of the first film, and to a lesser extent its sequel. The music, however, remains one of the best things about the film, as does the chemistry between its leading women.
Trish Sie (Step Up All In) directs the final installment of the franchise, as Pitch Perfect screenwriter Kay Cannon returns, joined by Mike White for the final go-around. The formulas that made the first film so enjoyable also return, including the a cappella riff-off, the snide commentary from John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks), and a major competition at stake — this time under the disguise of a USO tour. However, what’s lacking this time around is their rival a capella group, the Treblemakers, led by Jesse Swanson (Skylar Astin). The romantic chemistry between Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Jesse was one of the things that helped make the two previous films what they were, and the singing rivalry only improved it.
There are some romantic storylines involving new characters this time around, involving music executive Theo (Guy Burnett) and military officer Chicago (Matt Lanter), but Pitch Perfect 3 just isn’t the same without The Treblemakers. A lot of what hit so well in previous outings is present, but there’s also a Bond villain-esque subplot with casinos, yachts, and explosions that feels wholly unnecessary to the threequel.
After the large majority of the cast graduated in the second installment, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) took over the Barden Bellas, and the film quickly catches up with what everyone else is doing with their lives. Beca is now pursuing her dreams as a music producer, working with mediocre hip-hop acts and being pestered by commentators-turned-documentarians John (Higgins) and Gail (Banks). Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) aspires to stage a one-woman show on Broadway, so she’s busy working in Times Square as a street performer. Chloe (Brittany Snow) is working to become a veterinarian. Aubrey (Anna Camp) now runs The Lodge at Fallen Leaves. Cynthia Rose (Ester Dean) is struggling to pass exams in flight school. Flo (Chrissie Fit), the former exchange student, owns a food truck. It’s unknown what Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) is up to, but she’s seen sewing hair in a basement.
After Emily extends an invitation to the alumni to join her for a reunion concert, the Bellas get a chance to catch up with each other, and realize just how much they miss singing together. It’s only when Aubrey mentions her dad’s job, as a high-ranking military officer, and suggests that he would be able to get them a spot on the USO tour. There’s no college or world championships at stake for the Bellas, only the opportunity to open up for DJ Khaled at the end of the tour. The competition includes Evermoist, led by Calamity (Ruby Rose), country band Saddle Up, and DJs Dragon Nuts and Looney.
Meanwhile, John Lithgow also joins the cast as Fat Amy’s dad, Fergus. The storyline involving Lithgow leads the film into action-comedy territory, and takes away from the magic that makes the Pitch Perfect franchise what it is. Lithgow’s whole arc is completely absurd, and does damage to the film overall. He’s implausible as the film’s villain, up to and including the point when the Bellas are held hostage aboard a yacht — though there’s a great performance of “Toxic” — and the logic leaves these scenes feeling wholly unnecessary. While it’s diverting enough to see Fat Amy kicking some ass, Pitch Perfect isn’t an action comedy series, and its attempt at a James Bond arc just takes away from the film’s potential.
Higgins and Banks are in great form, however, as their reprise their roles as a capella analysts turned documentary filmmakers, John and Gail. The duo made for some of the funniest parts of the earlier films, and the third time around, they have just as much access to the Bellas, who clearly don’t care too much for the documentary. They even provide their own commentary during the USO performances, because the film wouldn’t be complete without it. Their comedic riffs almost even make up for the unnecessary action sequences.
The film is at its best when the onetime Bellas are allowed to shine. The Pitch Perfect series has arguably been one long character study of Beca, and the ways in which she’s grown from her freshman year. Beca becoming the centerpiece here is a good thing, because Kendrick is a star in her own right, and despite the ensemble, the series has been about her from the beginning. As it is with any huge ensemble piece, there’s always a massive fight for screen time and some characters hardly get enough. Only Chloe and Fat Amy get substantial screen time, as they play larger roles in the film’s aforementioned romantic subplots.
Sie picks a nice batch of songs for the a capella performances, whether it’s the riff-off or the rabble-rousing closing number, “Freedom,” that you’ll find yourself listening to on a loop. Those songs wouldn’t work without the amazing work of director of photography Matthew Clark and editors Craig Albert and Collin Patton. Granted, Sie is no stranger to filming music-based films or music videos (OK Go’s “Here it Goes Again,” among others), and her previous technical experience plays to her strengths in putting it all together.
Pitch Perfect 3 is hardly a perfect movie, but seeing these women singing and having fun on screen together for the final time is frequently a lot of fun. The filmmakers have kept the things that fans love about Pitch Perfect, but stumble when it comes to adding anything new to the mix. While the closing number might be strong, the third installment misses on the big finale.