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Review: Pitch Perfect 3 – “A light, feel-good comedy”

Once upon a time, a film was just a film. Then, in the last thirty years, two distinct sub-sets emerged: boy films and girl films. Many films were boy films; action pictures full of smart-mouthed, muscled men in suits, uniforms or fatigues, keeping order in a perilous world.

In comparison, the concepts behind girl films sometimes felt flimsy, like love, family, horses and baking. Producers, marketeers, maybe even critics would describe these films using gender-specific terms, so, poor, stupid viewers of either gender would know which film was for them.

This sounds like a joke, but the number of men saying “Eurgh, not interested in a girl film, thank you,” prior to the screening of Pitch Perfect 3 was at unprecedented levels. Since when did singing become gendered? If that’s now the case can one of the guys please let Hugh Jackman know? In the hallowed halls of the multiplex, there is work still to be done.

For the uninitiated, Elizabeth Banks is a girl. Having moved from actress, to director, to producer of the Pitch Perfect series, Banks seems well-aware of gender stereotyping. In Pitch Perfect 3 she and director Trish Sie have produced a movie that caters to its core demographic and their reluctant partners. A few years have passed since the climax of Pitch Perfect 2, and the original Barden Bellas have moved on, making career a priority, in veterinary science, music production, even starting a food truck business. Beca (Anna Kendrick) walks out of her job and drowns her sorrows at a Bellas reunion. Bellas leader Aubrey (Anna Camp) finally capitalises on 1) an old joke about having an absent father in the Armed Forces and 2) a new joke about plot exposition leading to the Bellas jetting across Europe to fight out for a place supporting DJ Khaled at a huge Forces concert. Along the way, they must compete against Calamity’s (Ruby Rose) rock band Evermoist and other acts who end up doing crazy things like not competing against one another. There is a boring side plot about Beca’s decision to pursue a solo career, and a better one with Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) reuniting with her crazy Aussie criminal father Fergus (John Lithgow). This ends up as the central conceit, combining action, singing and girl bonding to great effect.

Pitch Perfect 3 is funny, musical and features Wilson in her best role to date. It’s also astute, cheering on its audience while not alienating sceptics. It barely focuses on relationships (other than daddy-daughter-dynamics) and features an exemplary cast. It does have a few small problems. I don’t even remember half of the names of the cast, and a running joke about two cast members not having any story starts off as funny and quickly becomes sad. The music pieces are good, if highly produced, with little time to breathe between any of the numbers. The film spends so much time being proudly white feminist that it forgets to give people of colour sufficient bandwidth (praise going to Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit and Ester Dean for doing what they can). And, apart from Lithgow and John Michael Higgins (who always gets the best lines), Sie and writer Kay Cannon do not treat male cast members well. In particular, an actor stands in shot, saying nothing for three scenes, his only purpose being to be a black man in uniform. He could have been a love interest, or have had at least one line! Beca’s story arc is not nearly as interesting as the rest of the film, meaning that an Oscar-nominee is reduced to rehashing previous plotlines, the price she pays for being part of the ensemble, which is the film’s message, after all.

None of this should put off viewers. Pitch Perfect 3 was made for these times. Fat Amy is more than just a character, she’s a metaphor for struggle, a former footnote who uses jokes at her expense to become the coolest, funniest action hero on screen. This is the heart of the film, Wilson’s wicked comic timing and impressive action skills, with props given to the stunt co-ordinators. There is no room for weakness in the Pitch Perfect series and its better off for it.

Pitch Perfect 3 is for anyone looking for a light, feel-good comedy. It is just as funny as more male-centric releases in this genre, while subtly subverting stereotypes like only Pitch Perfectaca-can.

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