Pitch Perfect 3

Billed as the ending to the trilogy, PITCH PERFECT 3 wraps up most of the storylines and offers a decent final chapter for the characters of this franchise. It also has, arguably, some of the best music of the series – and for a series that is all about a cappella, that’s a major plus. When the film is firing on all cylinders, it’s really quite fun – but there are also points where the film definitely falters. It’s a major step up from PITCH PERFECT 2, but it is still a pale imitation of the first film.

PITCH PERFECT 3 takes place three years after the second film. The main characters have all graduated from college, and they are all struggling to find meaning and purpose in their lives now that their a cappella competition days are over. The women commiserate over the emptiness in their lives, and learn of a chance to reunite for a USO show tour through Europe. Of course, it wouldn’t be a PITCH PERFECT film without a competition (as the film tongue-in-cheek acknowledges), and so it is revealed that the group that most impresses the tour’s main act (DJ Khaled) will open for him in the final show.

Unlike the second film, which sidelined Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) in favor of focusing on other characters, PITCH PERFECT 3 places Beca’s character back into main focus. The series has always centered around Beca’s story, and Anna Kendrick really shines here as the sarcastic, self-aware, and dutiful friend that she is. Through the course of the series, viewers have seen Beca grow and take on more responsibility – and in PITCH PERFECT 3, she is at her most vulnerable. She is frustrated at the path her life has taken, and her story comes to a very natural conclusion in this film – one that I found deeply satisfying.

All of the other Barden Bellas return in PITCH PERFECT 3, and the film treats them with much more reverence than the second film. There is less mean-spirited humor, less crass and stereotypical jokes – and that makes the film feel more uplifting. In particular, Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow) and Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) shine very bright in the ensemble. The two have been mainstays throughout all three films, but they are at their very best in this film. There is a great payoff in many jokes that have carried through the first two films, particularly with regards to Lilly’s character. Emily Junk (Hailee Steinfeld) also returns for this film, and her character is thankfully less prominent. In this film, Emily is much more naive about the world – leading to some great bits. My biggest issue with Emily in PITCH PERFECT 2 was that her character took away from Beca’s character – and that is no longer the case in this film. The two mean-spirited a cappella commentators (played by John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks) also return to the film – but their inclusion feels more like an afterthought.

Of course, there’s also more Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson). I remain deeply conflicted about Fat Amy as a character. She’s incredibly funny, but the kind of funny that overstays its welcome very fast. Since the first film, the series has given more focus on Fat Amy – and much like PITCH PERFECT 2, her expanded role isn’t all that great. In PITCH PERFECT 3, Fat Amy’s storyline is so divorced from the rest of the film that it almost feels like it belongs in a different movie. Fat Amy’s subplot revolves around her estranged, criminal father (played by John Lithgow). This particular subplot is very predictable – resulting in neither laughs nor any of the charm that this musical series is known for. Instead, it gives the audience an action sequence aboard a yacht that is as bland as it is inexplicable.

It was probably too much to expect that a film like PITCH PERFECT 3 would offer any deep insight into the world of the USO shows and the role it plays in the lives of military families. In fact, the film barely scratches the surface of what it means to participate in the USO. But the film does try some new ideas that flow really well. For the first time in the franchise, the Bellas a cappella group is up against music groups that use instruments. The bands have super stereotypical names (Evermoist is the rock band, Saddle Up is the country band, etc.) but their inclusion in the film leads to some really memorable musical moments. They’re ultimately a little underused, but they present a great challenge to the Bellas.

PITCH PERFECT 3 is a perfectly fine conclusion to the series. The music is wonderful, the laughs come easy, and the storyline does its characters justice. Sure, the story is uneven and the Fat Amy subplot is especially bizarre,  but the missteps are easy to forgive due to the film’s heart and a toe-tapping soundtrack. It’s the final curtain call for the Barden Bellas, but the a cappella group definitely goes out on a good note.