Hollywood's perfectly pitched film franchise


Pitch Perfect 3Image copyright
Universal

Pitch Perfect 3 is outstanding. Quite literally.

Not only is the third instalment of the successful film franchise highly entertaining – but also highly unusual for Hollywood.

Seeing an all-female ensemble cast in a storyline where the main objective isn’t finding a boyfriend is something you don’t often see.

Which is perhaps why the movies have become so popular.

“I distinctly remember seeing the first one in the cinema and just feeling so great afterwards,” says Hailee Steinfeld, who joined the cast in Pitch Perfect 2 and reprises her role in the third.

“I loved every minute of it, loved the musical aspect, I thought the relationships within the movie were so interesting and fun. I remember thinking if there’s ever a movie like this I have to be a part of it.”

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Media captionHailee Steinfeld: Why Pitch Perfect is ‘refreshing’

Hailee’s reaction to the first film, released in 2012, wasn’t unique (although sadly the rest of us have yet to be cast in one of the sequels).

Audiences knew they were in for a very different type of movie from the opening scene, where Anna Camp’s character violently throws up on stage, bringing shame on her a cappella group, The Barden Bellas, and setting up the plotline which sees them try to rebuild their reputation.

Its script was sharper and more cutting than the average teen comedy movie, and the film was warmly received by critics.

“The first Pitch Perfect was a bit of a sleeper hit,” says film critic Rhianna Dhillon.

“It felt like a word-of-mouth movie, because on the description alone it didn’t necessarily sound that appealing, hearing actors doing covers of songs without any music, but then when you see it and understand it you realise what a fantastic idea it is.

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Universal

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Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick reprise their roles as Fat Amy and Beca in Pitch Perfect 3

“It pushed for the underdog. It was outrageous. It showcased different types of women than we’re used to seeing on screen, it broke down stereotypes. It felt really important but also not forced.”

She adds: “It reminded me of being at uni and making all these friends for the first time, understanding their quirks.”

After the somewhat surprising success of Pitch Perfect, a sequel was hastily scheduled, and the imaginatively-titled Pitch Perfect 2 became the highest-grossing musical comedy of all time when it was released in 2015.

The franchise’s success, and in particular, its famous riff-offs [singing battles], even prompted the BBC to commission a new singing competition for choirs and a cappella groups called Pitch Battle, which launched this year.

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Universal

And yet, the Pitch Perfect story remains atypical in the movie landscape.

Think back to 2011’s Bridesmaids – which was supposed to be a game-changer for Hollywood.

The Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy film was said to be one that would convince movie executives that films with a female ensemble cast can be funny, entertaining, and successful at the box office.

“It says something that a movie like Bridesmaids was so successful, I think people love that, and find it refreshing,” Hailee says.

“And for me as an actor, it’s fun to be a part of a movie that’s about a group of women banding together and lifting each other up and supporting each other. And there’s outside relationships involved, but the core of it is between them.”

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Getty Images

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Kristen Wiig co-wrote and starred in Bridesmaids, which was released in 2011

After the release of Bridesmaids, The Wrap published an article (typical for what was being written about the film at the time), entitled “Bridesmaids sparks a genre: Why we’ll see a lot more R-rated chick flicks.”

“Bridesmaids has an opportunity to open the door to the crazy, vulgar female comedy,” screenwriter Linda Voorhees told the website.

But, since then, there haven’t been quite as many Bechdel test-passing films as were expected – with the occasional exception, like this year’s Girls Trip.

“We’ve had films like Bachelorette and Rough Night, but again these all revolve around a marriage, a hen do, which Bridesmaids did first and did so well that everything since is so overshadowed by it,” Rhianna says.

“So they haven’t broken out of that idea that women can only get together when there’s a union with a man involved, like Pitch Perfect did.

“You don’t think of the Pitch Perfect films as romantic comedies even though there are some romances in them, I think Hollywood needs to sort of realise that women are quite happy seeing female friendships on screen as much as they are seeing romances.”

Many recent films with a female-ensemble cast have been notable, even controversial, for the gender of the main characters – like the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters.

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Getty Images

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The all-female Ghostbusters remake was directed by Paul Feig (far right)

“Ghostbusters was almost set up to fail,” Rihanna continues, “because it was tackling a much-loved film, and also they specifically said the difference was that they’re all women this time, and that doesn’t necessarily make a good film.

(Ghostbusters wasn’t a huge box office success and, prior to the film’s release, its trailer became the most disliked in YouTube’s history.)

“I’m kind of feeling the same way about [the all-female] Ocean’s Eight, they could’ve just done a fantastic heist movie with women, and not have anything to do with Ocean’s anything. It’s frustrating that they always seem to have to piggy back off a male franchise to make any headway.”

Instead, having a film with base material which is unique, rather than just a reboot or remake of an old movie, is precisely where Pitch Perfect excelled.

Despite being adapted from a book, it was praised for its originality, largely helped by its gross-out humour and the ad-libbing from cast members like Rebel Wilson.

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Media captionRebel Wilson and the audition that won her a role in Pitch Perfect

The franchise also doesn’t make a big song and dance about the fact the cast is female.

They just make a big song and dance, full stop.

“We can’t believe how successful it’s become,” Rebel told Graham Norton last week. “And it’s so cool because we’re all friends in the cast, and so we want to work together again.”

Hailee agrees: “We love each other, it’s funny, even after a 16-hour day of working together, being exhausted, and singing the same songs, wearing shoes that were uncomfortable, we would still all want to go out to dinner and hang out.

“You essentially live together for as long as you make these movies because you’re living in such tight quarters for such a long period of time, so yeah we’re all very close and it’s a lot of fun.”

Journalists aren’t allowed to give away any plot details of Pitch Perfect 3 until next week – but you can basically expect all the usual hallmarks of the franchise – along with more cameos from some major music stars.

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Universal

The latest film has been marketed as the third of a trilogy, and the posters carry the brilliant strapline “Last call, pitches”, suggesting that the franchise could be wrapping up soon.

But given the juggernaut the whole project has been, could the Barden Bellas return for a fourth instalment? Or could there be a spin-off series?

Come on Hailee throw us a bone here.

“I really am not sure,” she says.

Not good enough.

“It’s funny because even after the second one we were awaiting the call for the third and trying to figure out where it was that they were going.

“But I think the possibilities are really endless, especially for the Bellas, and I’d love to pick up with them again and see where they go.”

Would she star in a potential Pitch Perfect 4, if asked? “Absolutely.”

Super. Now that that’s all agreed and legally binding, we’ll be watching out not just for more Pitch Perfects, but perhaps also for more films just like them.

Pitch Perfect 3 is released in the UK on 22 December.

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