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Pitch Perfect lived long enough to see itself become the villain [review]

Pitch Perfect may not actually be perfect. It isn’t original, it isn’t visually stimulating — its soundtrack is good at best, annoying at worst. But Pitch Perfect has character. It has a clear story, and it tells it.

In 2012, the film quickly became woven into our culture — from the revival of the Cup Song to that GIF of Fat Amy engulfing the internet. Pitch Perfect is not without its flaws — but it was sweet enough to win the hearts of audiences and stay there.

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Until the sequel. Pitch Perfect 2 tried desperately to recapture the energy of its predecessor, but the moment was gone. The film was so forgettable I had to Google the plot, because all I could remember was that Hailee Steinfeld was in it.

But I don’t remember Pitch Perfect 2 making me feel as gross as Pitch Perfect 3 did by the time I walked out the theatre.

Pitch Perfect 3 tells of a Barden Bella reunion at a concert for the USO, a non-profit that provides entertainment to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. And this premise alone is enough to alienate viewers.

The glorification of the US military is always going to be a touchy subject. And the idea that the film is actively celebrating the institution responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in places like the Middle East? It’s never going to make for light viewing.

Pitch Perfect 3 uses politics to lure audiences in, then actively ignores talking about it

Pitch Perfect 3 ignores all of this, of course, because it’s a comedy musical. It’s meant to make people feel good — but lead characters expressing a blind faith in the troops doesn’t feel good. It also doesn’t add substance to story. What it does instead is pander to a very specific group of people (namely conservative or blindly patriotic Americans).

Pitch Perfect 3, though, wants the best of both worlds — and so also tries desperately to indulge liberal viewers. This particular pandering began in the first film, when it hinted heavily at Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow) potentially falling in love — though the film never acts on this notion.

The latest film carries this flame, and one scene sees Chloe grabbing Beca’s breasts to move her out the way. In another, Chloe mentions a sexual moment between some (or all) of the Bellas. But Chloe doesn’t end up with a woman. None of them do.

The frustrating part is that none of this weird politically-charged energy would be suspicious if it served purpose to the story. But it doesn’t. Pitch Perfect is purely trying to sell as many tickets as possible while playing it as safe as it can.

But playing it safe makes for a boring, confusing, and tonally frantic film.

Let’s run through the storylines: The Barden Bellas compete to open for DJ Khaled’s concert for the USO. Beca needs a new job. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) reunites with her father. Aubrey (Anna Camp) yearns for her father’s presence. Chloe is infatuated with a soldier. Ruby Rose is there — and that’s about all her involvement in the story.

Pitch Perfect 3 throws everything it thinks people want at the audience, but none of it sticks

Pitch Perfect 3 tries to pull a Cat-in-the-Hat balancing act, throwing everything it thinks people want at the audience. US troops? Check. DJ Khaled and his ridiculous catchphrases? Check. Ruby Rose? A ridiculous Fat Amy storyline that ends up dehumanising her? A feigned self-awareness meant to mask the plot’s failings? Check, check, check.

But unlike the Cat in the Hat, Pitch Perfect 3 can’t hold its own while balancing on a plotless foundation, and so everything comes crashing down into an irredeemable mess. And this unfortunately includes the music.

Pitch Perfect was not sold on story alone — in fact, it was mostly sold on repackaged pop songs that audiences already loved. Songs like Rihanna’s “Please Don’t Stop the Music”, Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”, and Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the USA” tinged the story with a kind nostalgia that forgave the film its shortcomings.

But Pitch Perfect 3 can’t even rest on the laurels of other musicians’ work. When trying to remember the songs the Bellas sing in the latest film, I get stuck on OMI’s “Cheerleader”, despite knowing for a fact the song wasn’t in the film. But the songs have the same energy as “Cheerleader”, if not the popularity. If I had to categorise the soundtrack, it would be placed under “light, repetitive pop that made little to no cultural impact”.

In fact, the majority of the songs I can remember from the film are during the riff-off — one of the few scenes in which popular songs are used and embraced. But even then, Pitch Perfect 3 struggles to remind the audience why it should care. None of the other characters care about the riff-off rules, none of them care enough about the competition to interact with the Bellas again. Sure, they played some fun songs, but why are they wasting our time?

Pitch Perfect 3 lures audiences in with its pandering politics that aid nothing, throws a bunch of half-baked and oftentimes dehumanising storylines at the audience, and then rounds out the mediocrity with a soundtrack that refuses to stay in my head no matter how much I try to keep it there.

The sequel should not exist. The first Pitch Perfect was fun, it was light, it made sense. But five years later? The latest in the franchise is a dead horse and a waste of time.

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