The Barden Bellas return to the spotlight in their third outing, an uneven European tour that wraps a nice bow around the group’s acca-xploits, but lacks what made the original special.
They never expected to get this far. They were only in it for their love of singing. They weren’t even supposed to have a shot in the first film but thanks to a brace of impressive box office returns, Anna Kendrick and co find themselves back in competition in Pitch Perfect 3. Alas, this isn’t quite the glorious swansong they may have hoped for, but a patchy affair that is short on the previous films’ enjoyable musical moments and instead crowbars in a disappointing and incongruous crime caper subplot.
That comes in the form of series newcomer John Lithgow who is clearly having tremendous fun playing the long-lost, ne’er-do-well father of Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy. If you’re wondering about the American actor playing the father of the distinctly Australian character, fear not, Lithgow unveils a monumentally awful Aussie accent (Dick Van Dyke reported winced when he heard it) to play the villainous pa. Their subplot is clearly an attempt to make this sequel bigger and louder, as sequels are wont to be, but it falls very flat and diminishes much of what these films have going for them.
The central competition is itself a little off key. Gone are the academic trappings of the first two films, and the Bellas’ all-male equivalents, The Treblemakers. Instead, our heroes have been thrust out into the terrifying world of work, reuniting for their farewell tour entertaining US troops with a final A Capella hurrah. Their competitors are largely forgettable and the stakes – the winners will support the tour headliner DJ Khaled on the closing night – are low. Indeed, the competition itself is largely side-lined and while the rhythm and editing of a mid-section montage are the closest the film gets to the accomplishment of its predecessors, it also feels out of place in a film more interested in individual stories and gags.
That said, the cast manages to pull things together when they’re given the chance and the various relationships that have been seeded in previous films feel natural and affectionate. Beca (Kendrick) remains the narrative focus with the clear trilogy-spanning arc, and Fat Amy continues to get the majority of the best lines but she’s ably supported by Hanna Mae Lee’s Lilly and Brittany Snow’s Chloe. Hailee Steinfeld remains wasted in her role as the next-gen Bella, Emily. Outside of the group, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are once again hilarious as the commentators-cum-Bella-documentarians.
By the end of the film, a wealth of characters unsure about their post-college path seem to have found their way and there are several scenes – and a nice final performance – that underscore the very watchable group dynamic that has built up over the films. It’s just a shame that despite some funny moments, Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t quite the same quality of material as before, meaning the Bellas close on something of a bum note.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson