Pitch Perfect 3 movie review: pitch, please…

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Pitch Perfect 3 red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

The slim charms of the previous movies have been tossed away in favor of cringe-inducing cattiness and a ridiculous plot. There’s barely even any music. Aca-palling.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): not the biggest fan of the previous films
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Pitch Perfect 3, third in the comedy series about the young women of a competitive university a cappella singing group, opens with them belting out a massive rendition of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” on a yacht off the south of France… and then leaping off the boat in slo-mo while it explodes.

This is really rather remarkable: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie jump the shark — or the exploding yacht — in its opening scene.

Even more remarkable: Then the movie flashes back to “Three weeks earlier.” At which point the hapless viewer realizes that the movie is going to attempt a justification for how a bunch of music dorks could ever find themselves in the midst of a James Bond scenario.

Was “Fat” Amy always this unendurably obnoxious? Why does anyone tolerate her?
Was “Fat” Amy always this unendurably obnoxious? Why does anyone tolerate her?

Spoiler: While it is not outside the realm of possibility that such a connection could conceivably be made — in the same way that a million monkeys pounding on typewriters might accidentally type out Hamlet given a million years to do so — the movie does not succeed at this in any way that approaches the satisfying.

It’s almost unbelievably aca-palling how Pitch Perfect 3 tosses out what made the previous two films just passingly aca-ceptable, which would be the a cappella singing among rival groups attempting to outdo their opponents. The music in Pitch 1 and Pitch 2 was pretty toe-tappingly entertaining. And the movies harkened back to silly musicals the likes of which we don’t see much of anymore, which was nice, even if the Pitches were problematic in their depictions of women. This was especially concerning given that the films were about women, written by a woman (Kay Cannon, who returns as screenwriter here), and with No 2 directed by a woman. Still: how can you not love “organized nerd singing,” as the first movie called it, or Anna Kendrick (The Accountant, Trolls), who is an unappreciated goddess of comedy and music? (I feel like the Pitch Perfect movies don’t even begin to hint at what she can do.)

The first movie was inspired by a nonfiction book about college a cappella. Reality is a distant rumor in Pitch Perfect 3.

Remember how the first movie was actually inspired by a nonfiction book about college a cappella? The spy-thriller opening sequence serves only to highlight how much more realistic James Bond is than what happens here. This time out, the Barden (College) Bellas reunite from their crappy 20something post-university 21st-century existences of dead-end jobs to do a USO tour in Europe, into which is shoehorned a competition that has nothing to do with a cappella and in which the other contestants are bands… you know, like with musical instruments and everything. So there’s very little a cappella, and not even much in the way of competition; we don’t even get performances from the other bands, which are limp pastiches of an all-girl rock band, a country-rock band, and a hip-hop group. “Pastiche” may be giving the film too much credit, though; the bands are nondescript, the musicians nonentities. The subplot that culminates on the exploding yacht is even further removed from all this to the degree that it feels like it’s been imported from a completely different movie, one that is — if possible — even cheaper and cheesier.

So what else is there? A lot of women disparaging other women and themselves, including one cringe-inducing moment in which the Bellas, who are meant to be in their mid 20s, trash just barely slightly younger women for their fresh dewiness and presumably tight vaginas (yes, really); a moment of creative assertion by Kendricks’s Beca that is dismissed as a side effect being on her period; a helluva lot of infantilization of talented actresses who are in their 30s, some pushing 40, forced to enact pajama parties and childish daddy issues. Rebel Wilson’s (The Brothers Grimsby, How to Be Single) “Fat” Amy is treated atrociously here, from her constant stream of self-hating fat jokes to how the script treats her sexuality and her interest in men as something laughable and disgusting, which is precisely the opposite of the earlier films. (She’s also just a nasty jerk, constantly insulting her fellow Bellas merely to be “outrageous,” but she’s just mean and awful.) I won’t even go into how John Lithgow (Daddy’s Home 2, Miss Sloane) embarrasses himself as Amy’s father, complete with an awful Australian accent. And the less said about the return of Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, Magic Mike XXL) and John Michael Higgins (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Big Miracle) as the a cappella competition podcasters and commentators who are suddenly making a documentary — this is the flimsy excuse the movie has for them following the action around — the better. They do not deserve this.

No. No. Just go home. You’re embarrassing yourselves.
No. No. Just go home. You’re embarrassing yourselves.

There’s a reek of desperation to Pitch Perfect 3, a flailing-around attempt to re-create the success of the earlier movies without appreciating what made them work (which wasn’t much to start with). Screenwriter Cannon falls back on her TV-sitcom background with multiple slapstick action sequences that are shockingly out of place here. Director Trish Sie (Step Up All In) is incredible at crafting compulsively watchable music videos — she directed OK Go’s adventure in zero gravity for their song “Upside Down & Inside Out” — but there is no life in anything here that isn’t the very occasional musical number. Yet even the Bellas’ a cappella rendition of George Michael’s “Freedom” in the finale looks good only by comparison with the 90 minutes of nearly unwatchable junk that has come before.

see also:
Pitch Perfect (review)
Pitch Perfect 2 movie review: out of tune

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Stacy Livitsanis
Stacy Livitsanis
Thu, Dec 21, 2017 9:33am

Not that I was going to be first in line to see this, but the “Three Weeks Earlier” opening is all I need to know to not bother. The ‘x time earlier’ opening is now such a detestable and overused device that if I’m watching a film at home and it begins with “three weeks earlier” (and a lot of films persist in doing this), then I instantly turn it off. It’s lazy and annoying. It instantly makes a movie feel like a bad TV show. Unless you’re going to make a serious effort at non-linear storytelling, start the story at the goddamn start, please. Has there ever been a film that used this that was any good? (I don’t consider Thor or Mission: Impossible III to be any good)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Stacy Livitsanis
Thu, Dec 21, 2017 12:08pm

I think this conceit *can* work, as a way to create suspense. But this is not the kind of suspense a comedy about a cappella singing is asking for.

reply to  Stacy Livitsanis
Thu, Dec 21, 2017 12:13pm

That trope needs to die on TV, too, although I could make an argument in favor of the “Trash” episode of Firefly.

Stacy Livitsanis
Stacy Livitsanis
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Dec 26, 2017 9:37am

I’ve seen it so many times in the last few years it’s become aggravating. Although I finally thought of a film that uses this trope that I like: Starship Troopers. “One Year Earlier”. And now that I think of it, Kubrick’s Lolita opens at the end of the story, then jumps back to the beginning. So it isn’t a new idea, but it is an overused one.

reply to  Stacy Livitsanis
Wed, Dec 27, 2017 1:35am

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
One Hundred Years of Solitude

The second season of The Crown on Netflix also opens with this device, and it takes several episodes to work back to that starting point. I think it’s a good show.

Also, the final season of The West Wing starts by jumping a few years into the future and teases a reveal of the newly elected president, but never shows his face.

Wed, Dec 27, 2017 1:23am

I don’t necessarily disagree with your criticisms, but I found the movie enjoyable anyway. I liked that the Bellas were taken out of the context of collegiate a cappella competitions and thrown into a wider world. I liked that they found themselves up against bands with instruments and that they had to confront the insecurity of being seen as just a choral group doing covers — that’s a chip that many post-collegiate a cappella groups have on their shoulder, as they yearn for “legitimacy” within the larger music world. (Though I do wish the story had followed through on this and made the Bellas — and Becca, fighting for recognition as a solo artist-producer — perform more originals, instead of falling back on covers like George Michael’s “Freedom,” as nicely done as that was.) I thought John Lithgow’s hammy performance was ridiculous, but enjoyably so; I thought DJ Khaled was an awful actor, but hilariously so. The James Bond genre mashup was absurd, but, again, I liked it. I wish the women of color had more to do and say.

There’s barely even any music.

Errrmhuh? There was plenty of music throughout. Though if you disliked the movie this much I can understand if the music didn’t make an impression. :-)