Pitch Perfect 3: Give up on your dreams, but do it in song.
The opening scene of Pitch Perfect 3 sees the older, now conclusively post-college Bellas involved in a well put together, but noticeably uncomfortable performance of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ on the deck of a fancy looking yacht. Dancing primly in front of a suited and booted John Lithgow, they swap confused glances with each other as the camera zooms, James Bond-esque style, into close-ups of his eyes, then Beca’s; her eyes, then his watch, so on and so forth. The song finishes and none other than Fat Amy crashes through the skylight and the group promptly jumps ship, in absurd slow-motion, as the boat explodes behind them. The “How on earth did we get to this?!” backtracking that makes up the rest of the film – including the girls letting go of their singing talent and dreams for the hum-drum of daily life – is full of self-aware humour and exaggeration that stems entirely from whatever the hell those at the helm wanted to chuck in, however ludicrous. And it’s exactly that: it’s entirely ludicrous. But it’s entirely brilliant in doing it, dammit.
2012’s original Pitch Perfect, it’s worth remembering, rolled into cinemas fresh-faced and inimitable. New college freshman takes over the world of music with a group of girlfriends, a swarm of efficacious harmonies, and a song about cups: what’s not to love? It offered a role that allowed lead Anna Kendrick to revel in, an all-female ensemble that refused to falter, and a tight script with few weak links. By the time the film’s sequel rolled around three years later, the premise of cutthroat competitive acapella seemed to have pretty much exhausted all its possibilities, but its eagerness and genuine hilarity prevailed, if not proving a little stale. Now, as the franchise’s third instalment hits the big screen, there seems to be few other options to turn to. How many riff-offs do we really need to see? How many more acapella competitions do they really need to enter? How many more fat jokes do we need to be subjected at the hands of Fat Amy?
Five years on from its first outing, Pitch Perfect 3 seems to know, deliberately exploit and, basically, implode on itself its own formula. With nowhere left to expand into, it assumes we know the drill and have it memorised and then has a riot as it subverts it in front of our very eyes. “Is there a competition? There’s always a competition” one of them chirps as they discuss reuniting the Bellas amongst their apparently dreary post-college lives. And, of course, there is, for hip-hop top-dog DJ Khaled shows up and apparently organises one. The first riff-off ends with the group’s competitors banding together and blasting them with ukuleles, electric guitars and drum kits as the Bellas walk primly off-screen asserting that their rivals are disqualified on the grounds of using instruments. Fat Amy, as usual, is the chief mouthpiece for the film’s stock of one-liners and witticisms, but all which have now lost any pretence of being anything less than half-disguised fat jokes. I counted 16.
There are some choice one-liners which showcase writer Kay Cannon’s astuteness and Wilson’s comic talent (“we’re going to be clinging to you like mom jeans to a camel-toe”) and the comedy rarely, if ever, falters. Most of the film’s fun stems entirely from its stark refusal to attempt to top its predecessors and instead push its own formula to the limits of self-awareness, bordering on ridicule. A half-baked subplot involving Fat Amy’s father (Lithgow, parading an Australian accent which can only be described as inanely questionable) – absent from her childhood, making a sudden return – reeks of childish, ‘nudge-nudge’ suspicion, like a good Christmas panto. Occasional moments poke fun at the real world of razzle-dazzle celebrity – DJ Khaled travels with his own personal ‘juiceoligist’ who carries a portable beehive. Could it be possible that Pitch Perfect 3 is, actually, a colourful satire cleverly disguised as numbing farce? Perhaps not. Probably. But go in with an open mind and little attachment to the film’s precursors and there’s very little to aca-disappoint.
Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), directed by Trish Sie, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures. Certificate 12A.