The Barden Bellas are back for Pitch Perfect 3, but don't expect the same song and dance. Do expect the same everything else, though.
There is no question that the Pitch Perfect films have evolved (if not necessarily matured) in the years since the original movie's 2012 bow. Yet no matter how big the franchise gets or how many special appearances the film's farewell tour boasts, it's hard not to think that the Bellas are learning the very same lessons, all over again.
In the first film, Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a reluctant college student who cares more about producing music in her dorm room than making friends. When she does decide to join a school-sanctioned club, it's with hopes that she can mold them to be what she needs — only to realize that, ultimately, the group already was what she needed.
Of course, that was two movies ago. When we pick up with Pitch Perfect 3, the Bellas have long been BFFs, even if most of the characters we've followed are now no longer Barden students. The post-grad world is hard for the Bellas — even Kendrick's Beca, who quickly realizes that music producing for terrible Tyga wannabes is as soul-crushing as it seems.
Pitch Perfect 3 makes it clear that all the Bellas have is one another, though, more accurately, what they really have is just their fond memories of college. When the chance comes up for the group to sing together again during a USO tour, they are all too quick to leave jobs, vet school, and, for Hailee Steinfeld's Emily, Barden itself, in order to perform together yet again.
"So there is a competition," Anna Camp's Aubrey says with glee as she learns that the performers on the USO tour will be assessed by DJ Khaled, who is looking for an opener for the tour's final concert. Unfortunately, bands like Evermoist (led by the always cool Ruby Rose) are ready to crush the Bellas — and, uh, they actually play instruments.
Still, the more we watch the a cappella group perform, it's hard to buy that anyone would be less than delighted by their showstoppers, of which I wished there were a few more of. (I will always want more musical numbers in Pitch Perfect, and not just because the plots tend to be on the thin side.) On what planet is anyone in the audience of this USO tour not going home and streaming the Bellas' mixes on Spotify? It's ludicrous that anyone would consider this ultra-talented group of beautiful and diverse women the underdogs of any story.
Suspend your disbelief as best you can.
The film is ultimately about the friendship between the Bellas, and so it's not surprising that, once again, Beca is tasked with choosing between her own goals and the good of the team. Here, she's offered a major career opportunity, only to be told that she can't bring her girls along for the ride. Beca refuses, but, shocker — her friends are super supportive of her and want her to pursue her music dreams, even if they can't. It's the lesson that Beca and the rest of the Bellas learn in every movie: These friends are ride or die.
Someone should have slipped Beca the Pitch Perfect 2 DVD.
In Pitch Perfect 3's defense, it's never easy to move characters we've seen deal with problems within a more structured environment (à la Barden University) into the "real world." Glee stumbled as it attempted to take Rachel and Kurt's drama away from Ohio's McKinley High to New York City. Gossip Girl made sure its characters never left their 12-block radius, despite no longer being Manhattan prep school students. Beverly Hills, 90210 made sure all of its students attended the same faux-UCLA. Did it work? Not as well, but we kept watching.
It's a tough sell to assume that everyone in a high school (or, in Pitch Perfect's case, college) will be bound to one another when they're off having their own adventures. Having the Bellas learn another lesson about friendship, via another competition, might not be the most innovative plot for the third film, but it's certainly better than the alternative, which is giving the audience a Pitch Perfect it no longer can recognize.
It's hard to blame Pitch Perfect 3 for repeating history — or really care that it is. I would be lying if I said Pitch Perfect 3 wasn't affecting, especially in today's climate. Made before the #MeToo movement's resurgence, it's a reminder that women don't need urgent circumstances to come together. There is power in the relationships between women, even when the relationships are complicated and sometimes fraught. (See: Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy and Steinfeld's Emily.)
When the Bellas sing their cover of George Michael's "Freedom! 90," in staunch defiance of the people who said Beca couldn't bring her friends with her on the way to the top — why, yes, this writer did tear up.
The Pitch Perfect franchise celebrates girl power, even if the characters would cringe at the word. It's hard to consider it a coincidence Kay Cannon's script revealed that both Wilson's Amy and Camp's Aubrey have long-absent dads — who, ultimately, the film reveals the women never really needed. Amy's father, portrayed by John Lithgow, has a particularly surprising arc that ultimately brings the Bellas closer together — while also temporarily turning the film into a Hangover-esque action comedy.
On that note: Pitch Perfect 3's plot is a bit broader than we've seen from either of its predecessors. Director Trish Sie has more than just musical numbers to direct: She also has a plethora of action sequences, most of which involve Wilson's Amy. Amy's origins are uncovered, and it turns out she's even larger-than-life than one could have expected. Wilson excels at Amy's version of Atomic Blonde (set to an a capella version of Britney Spears' "Toxic") and it made me wish that we could see her go to task on bad guys in her own Amy spin-off.
Without spoiling too much of the film, I will say that the whereabouts of Skyler Astin's Jesse are mentioned minutes into the movie — and fans who shipped the OG Pitch Perfect couple may be bummed. However, midway through the film, I almost forgot that all of the Trebles were missing. I've been itching to see the ever-talented Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hanson, but I can't say I much missed the boys this time around — Pitch Perfect 3 felt crowded enough as it is, and really, the movies were never about them.
If this is the final film in the franchise (despite the posters declaring it the "farewell tour" and the "last call," I don't totally buy it), I will thank Pitch Perfect for crafting a group of girlfriends that feels oddly true, if a bit quirkier than their real-life counterparts. Pitch Perfect has never been afraid to allow its mostly-women cast to be hilarious at their own expense. (See: Aubrey's pukegate from the first film.) Gross, messy, unapologetic, awkward, stumbling — the women of Pitch Perfect are far from flawless, but the franchise never congratulates itself for that. Newsflash: This is how real women are.
Pitch Perfect 3 may not be the strongest film of the franchise, but it's certainly one that makes me sad the Bellas are possibly moving on.