THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"KATY PERRY: PART OF ME"
Katy Perry is a perfect pop star. Her songs are infectiously catchy, and she has a fun, playful style that she continually modifies or reinvents. She's more talented and substantive than someone like Ke$ha, but without the off-putting, self-conscious weirdness of Lady Gaga. After her debut single “I Kissed a Girl,” it was easy to assume Perry would just be a one-hit wonder, coasting on the massive success of a suggestive tune, a la Right Said Fred. Perry rose above that, though, going on to become the only female artist in history to have five #1 songs on a single album. (The only other artist ever to achieve that honor was some guy named Michael Jackson.) Whether you're a diehard fan, a casual admirer, or even a detractor, you have to give the new documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me credit for showing the person inside the superstar.
Structured similarly to last year's Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the film follows Perry on her 2011 Teenage Dream world tour. It quickly becomes clear that she makes overachievers look like slackers. Perry is heavily involved in even the most minute details of her tour. She's constantly attending meet-and-greets with fans, doing interviews, or rehearsing dance moves. Every few weeks, she insists on taking a few days off so that she can fly to wherever husband Russell Brand is. Sleep appears to be a rare commodity in her world.
Interspersed with the backstage peeks are concert performances in which Perry commands a Candyland-themed stage set, and interview segments with the singer herself, in addition to those in her inner circle. Part of Me makes it clear that Perry was no overnight success. Raised by two evangelical pastors, she was forbidden from listening to secular music as a child. She eventually got signed to a Christian label, then decided she wanted to branch out beyond that genre. Two mainstream labels signed her and tried to make her a star, only to drop her when they realized she wouldn't be pigeonholed into easily-digestible trends. (There's some fascinating archival footage of her early efforts.) Only when she stayed true to herself did fame arrive. “I Kissed a Girl” put her on the map, although her mother naturally claims not to be a fan of that particular song. Perry is surprisingly frank about the failures that preceded her massive success, crediting them for her current drive.
The sections of Part of Me that will likely be of most interest to viewers are the ones pertaining to the failure of her marriage. One unguarded moment finds her having a mini-breakdown in the dressing room of a Brazilian venue. Crying and deeply depressed, she has to decide whether she can muster up the energy to perform, or whether she should disappoint tens of thousands of fans by canceling. While the exact nature of the problems with Brand are kept private, there are some telltale clues. When her manager asks why the actor isn't coming to see her while on tour, Perry replies, “He should be, but he's not.” While it may have been an uncomfortable decision to include these personal moments in Part of Me, they really underscore the fact that even the most successful superstars have the same problems as anyone else. Seeing Perry fight through her tough times and put the “game face” on for her fans is inspiring, and unexpectedly touching.
Since Perry co-produced the documentary, it's clear that she was able to pick and choose what to show. You therefore don't get the same probing results you'd get had the film been made outside her purview; an independently-produced doc might have wanted to know exactly how she fought through the marriage problems, or why they existed in the first place. Also, because the concert sequences are so lively and visually spectacular, I wish the movie had allowed them to play out in full. Instead, we see shortened versions of them, intercut with interviews.
Even with those two minor complaints, I found Katy Perry: Part of Me to be a really enjoyable film. It's also a little more intimate than you may expect. The star is willing to let us peek behind the curtain a bit, for the bad times as well as the good ones. I admire that. Perry, it turns out, is not just a compelling performer, but also a compelling woman. The end result is like seeing a terrific Katy Perry concert, and then getting to hang out with her backstage for the rest of the evening.
( out of four)
Katy Perry: Part of Me is rated PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
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