What I learned Watching ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ Eight Times

I’ve seen Pitch Perfect 3 eight times. I wasn’t forced or tricked. I went solo all but two times. The second time, I started taking notes because I was struck by my emotions watching the movie. Here’s a secret: this movie is amazing. It’s fun and funny and you’ll sing along. It’s the best of the three Pitch Perfects. Yes, it’s the sappiest and least realistic movie in the series. But who goes to a movie about a cappella for the realism?

Critics generally agree that the music is good but find the writing terrible and the movie formulaic overall. The music is indeed one of the best parts, as should be the case with any musical. It may be formulaic. But there’s a formula for every genre so who cares? As for the writing, I simply disagree. And given I suspect I may be the only person alive to have seen this film so many times, I anoint myself the Number 1 expert.

Let me take you through my journey so you understand

The First Time

I saw it with a straight male friend. This is the wrong way to see Pitch Perfect. It’s the wrong way to see any Pitch Perfect but especially this one. I was self-conscious about the corny plot and cheesy lines. Women have long been told we’re not funny, that comedies about women are stupid but not the good kind of stupid like Anchorman. You know, that super intellectual humor.

Recall the backlash to the female-reboot of Ghostbusters. Dudes were angry that women stole the classic Bill Murray comedy. They couldn’t shut up about the queef joke near the beginning, that to them proved the film’s childishness (read: girliness). Despite an entire scene in the original in which Dan Aykroyd gets a blow job from a ghost, joking about vaginas making sound akin to a fart is a bridge too far, dammit.

While there are no offensive queef references in Pitch Perfect, some responded to Pitch Perfect 3with similar gut reactions. One super eloquent Rotten Tomatoes reviewer, Jay Crylax, simply called it “Another lousy bitch movie with no substance,” with one star. It appears Jay’s sole evidence for his low score are the bitches in question. In a way, he’s right. It is about a bunch of bitches. That’s why it’s good.

The Second Time

I had a historically shit holiday: my 6 a.m. Christmas morning flight was delayed twice then cancelled, so I spent the day alone with nothing to do because everything was closed. Then I spent two days fighting with my family about my dying grandmother. I returned to New York tired, cranky, cold, lonely and sad.

So I went to see Pitch Perfect 3 again. If anything would make me feel better, it’s a silly girl movie with low, low stakes.

This time around, safe by myself and wrapped in a fur hood, I realized this movie is a goldmine. It’s contrived but it works. It’s a fairy tale, not about a hetero romance but about female friendship. Once you reorient your brain, it’s suddenly even more charming than the previous movies.

The Third Time

The next day, all my friends and my boyfriend were still out of town. I still had a lonely New Year’s Eve awaiting me. So I got my furry vest again and went to see, you guessed it, Pitch Perfect 3. This time, I went with a mission. I read the reviews and I wanted to understand the negative reactions.

I understand why the other groups on the USO tour constantly infantilize and mock the Bellas. As the painfully named band “Evermoist” points out, the Bellas were only on the tour because Aubrey’s daddy is a powerful Army general. Despite their token minority characters, as a whole they’re group of privileged white women. Beca’s storyline is the worst offender.

Beca is a talented white girl who catches the eye of Theo, a producer for DJ Khaled. This being a fairy tale, he shows her Khaled’s super fancy microphone in his super fancy hotel suite and lets her “play around” with the equipment. Her “playing around” is, of course, genius and Theo rushes to tell Khaled, who immediately believes she’s going to be a superstar. She’s not the only talented one, or even necessarily the most talented, in the Bellas. She just happens to be the one who wants a music career and also contains the requisite basic whiteness.

There’s a scene when Theo ignores Evermoist trying to talk him up when the Bellas (Beca) walk by. He likes Beca because she isn’t trying. Translation: she isn’t being slutty. And one of the two black women in Evermoist gets the pathetic “wait” line.

No thank you.

This is a good time to remember Pitch Perfect’s race problem. The token black character is also the token lesbian, reinforcing stereotypes about masculine black women. The hispanic one works at a juice truck after illegally entering the country. The silent Asian is the Silent Asian. These archetypes, like so much of the franchise, are presented in a semi-self aware fashion but we’re past the time when it’s okay to be racist if you’re ironic about it.

The Fourth Time

Despite the problematic elements, I still love this movie. And since my people were finally back in town, I dragged a close friend.

This is the first time since the first that I saw it with someone, but after three tries, I feel much more confident in appreciating the silliness of the movie. I also knew that this close friend wouldn’t judge me if their reaction was like most. That’s when I realized this movie is all about your chosen family versus your biological one.

Fat Amy’s estranged criminal dad shows up to steal her trust fund. In a series of wildly unrealistic-but-who-cares moves, he kidnaps the Bellas and it’s up to Fat Amy and Beca to rescue them. Why not. To the naysayers: if Pulp Fiction gets a classic dance scene, Pitch Perfect gets to blow up a boat. Don’t come at me with plot holes or whining about how collegiate/post-college a capella doesn’t involve C-4. It’s a musical and musicals can do basically whatever they want so long as the songs are good. Which they are.

If only we all could do like Fat Amy and blow up the boats of men who wrong us.

The Fifth Time

I did the critical analysis last time. This time, I wanted man candy. Enter the sexy military men, ostensibly the Bellas’ handlers while on the USO tour but clearly present for the ladies, and the audience, to ogle.

Of course, the presence of these hunks irked some viewers, like polarizing self-described journalist Caitlin Johnstone, who apparently believes the film is the millennial arm of the U.S. war machine:

“From top to bottom, a sequel to a popular movie about an all-female singing group was built to normalize the globe-spanning war machine that is closely approaching a trillion dollar budget and recruit teenage girls into its ranks to be used for slaughter and destruction.”

As a hippy dippy lefist who spent much of her childhood attending peace protests with her hippy dippy parents, I agree the military-industrial complex is insidious and United States military might is responsible for some of the worst atrocities in history. But sticking some pretty boys in a comedy for a bunch of ladies to ogle? I’m gonna take it and like it, thank you very much. Teen girls’ libidos don’t ignite war.

The Sixth Time

Around this time, I started watching Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, starring Anna Camp, who plays Aubrey in the Pitch Perfect franchise. She’s a really good actress, didja know?

All the Bellas are played by technically excellent actresses with perfect comedic timing. They deserve more credit for that. Hollywood stars turned the Golden Globes into a political statement about the under-appreciated work of female artists. That should include blithe comedies.

John Michael Higgins also deserves a nod, because he makes misogyny almost charming in his role as chauvinist a capella has-been announcer John Smith.

The Seventh Time

Hungover from the night before, I drag myself to the Bellas once again. Nothing would soothe my aching body quite like their cheery tunes and perfectly lit hair. I suspect they might be my best friends.

I also suspect Beca is not sexually attracted to her love interest.

One Rotten Tomatoes reviewer, Amber W, was flabbergasted that Beca’s former love interest, Jesse, was written out of the last movie. But why? He was Beca’s college boyfriend. Very few people stay with their college sweethearts anymore. Why are we bothered with Beca having a new love interest—who is less a love interest but a vehicle for Beca’s rise to stardom.

Jesse spent the first movie guilting and blaming Beca for not having the correct feelings—meaning romantic for him. She got with him because this is a sappy, cliche franchise and I’m not debating that. He was hardly present in the sequel, possibly because Elizabeth Banks took over the director’s chair and knew the movie was better without him. It’s not about him, or any of the aca-dudes.

At least this new guy guilts Beca for not doing more with her talent, instead of making it all about his feelings.

The Eighth and Final Time

This last time, I went after a full night’s sleep. I wanted to go once more to evaluate the movie critically. Was this all simply a byproduct of my mental state unrelated to the movie?

I don’t get popcorn this time because the folks at my neighborhood theater definitely recognize me and I’m embarrassed.

I get the reviews. Vulture’s Emily Yoshida called the writing “punched up” and with band names like Evermoist and DJ DragonNuts, it’s hard to disagree. The New York Times’s Teo Bugbee wrote that the movie “keeps the songs but loses the plot.” Again, that’s not entirely wrong. But this movie isn’t about plot. It’s a musical fantasy about female friendship. It’s not a tumultuous journey into the human soul and it’s not going to win an Oscar. That’s fine, because sometimes all we really need is an explosion of glitter and perfectly auto-tuned pop numbers.

Calling it commercial, as The Hollywood Reporter’s Frank Scheck does, doesn’t do it justice. Calling it silly misses the point. Of course it’s silly: it’s a fairy tale.