Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
PITCH PERFECT 3
Rated PG-13, 93 minutes
Director: Trish Sie
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Ruby Rose, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Elizabeth Banks, John Lithgow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson, Matt Lanter, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Shelley Regner, Chrissie Fit and Ester Dean
There has never been a more problematic female-driven, feminist-forward trilogy than PITCH PERFECT. Despite the original PITCH PERFECT being aggressively mean-spirited, homophobic, racist, slut-shaming and size-ist, it set about to instill a rousing female empowerment anthem into the pop culture zeitgeist. While PITCH PERFECT 2 hit a few sour notes, it mostly remained on key. At least everyone got along and the lessons learned made much more sense. They sang an original song! The potential to finally ascend to the next level was pitched perfectly for PITCH PERFECT 3… and yet director Trish Sie (STEP UP ALL IN), working from a script from series regular Kay Cannon and series newcomer Mike White, finds a way to send a chart-topping hit plummeting off the charts. As it proves the clichéd phrase wrong, the third time is not the charm for the Bellas.
Bothering to summarize the plot is a futile effort as the filmmakers forget there even is one. MAGIC MIKE XXL’s collection of scenes about nothing had more of a committed, reinforced narrative than PITCH PERFECT 3 does. Our beloved a capella squad is caught in a rough emotional headspace after graduating from college. They’ve been separated for some time and miss their glory days. Amy (Rebel Wilson) isn’t gaining notoriety as “Fat Amy Winehouse.” Chloe (Brittany Snow) isn’t loving her job as a veterinarian. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is tired of being a music producer to over-coddled talent. Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is over-scheduled in college (cough, cough, as she should be!) and can’t find time to write original songs anymore. An equally depressed Aubrey (Anna Camp) comes up with a plan to spark their creative fires again: they’ll reunite and perform in a USO show overseas. But there’s a hitch – one that involves a return of Amy’s deadbeat dad (John Lithgow) and a competition to become the next big music superstar.
Cannon and White’s script is a garbage heap you’ll want to set on fire. There’s such disrespect paid to their creations, it’s unbearable. Character arcs – as individuals and as a team – lack any logical or satisfying payoff whatsoever. Franchise developments and callbacks are abysmal. The “competition” to be the act that opens on tour for DJ Khaled (whose name they say no less than twenty times) is a competition until it’s not. The other three acts – which include female rock band “Evermoist” (gross band name is gross – and unbelievable), country band “Saddle Up,” and a hip-hop duo – immediately hit it off, combining their talents in mashups during the obligatory “riff-off” challenge against the Bellas. And because the Bellas refuse to play nicely with others, they come across as the villains, not the hapless victims. The script busies itself frequently introducing new, disjointed narrative tracks into the mix, even as late as the third act. Streamlining the narrative would’ve done wonders. The kidnapping and action movie subplots stand out like a sore thumb, bringing nothing interesting or funny to the table. Plus, nothing comes of the documentary Gail (Elizabeth Banks) and John (John Michael Higgins) are filming. It’s just a flimsy excuse to include them in the chicanery.
Perhaps the worst part is how dangerously regressive its views on female empowerment are. Amy and Aubrey have severe daddy issues that will weigh heavily on fans’ souls. Beca, Chloe and Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) are all given love interests. These male characters are unmemorable drips – and not through the fault of the actors. It’s the material here that fails every actor and actress. Amy suggests they all “tart it up” (her words, not mine) to make themselves feel better about themselves. While their evening goes pear-shaped (due to the reasons the unfunny self-aware joke set-ups point out), the filmmakers don’t bother to point out that this poor decision to gain self-worth and get ahead of their competition wasn’t a good one.
Maybe not since Rambo aided the Mujahadeen, or the MATRIX got tangled up in a bunch of loose threads, have we seen a more troublesome trilogy. PITCH PERFECT 3 is a joyless slog, whereas the other two in this franchise exhibited a modicum of carefree fun. They can only hit the high notes for so long.
PITCH PERFECT 3 opens on December 22.