Katy Perry is a pop sensation like few others in the cultural landscape of 2012 – less arty and pretentious than Lady Gaga, more wholesome and sweet than Rihanna – she is the wayward daughter of a pair of Pentecostal preachers, one who has succeeded with a sugar-sexy shtick that teases just enough to get your blood up, but never enough to be tacky or obscene. And “Katy Perry: Part of Me,” is a movie like few others. It’s ostensibly a concert movie about her 2011 world tour that digs surprisingly deep into biographical material and comes up with the portrait of an artist as a young, heartsick woman. It’s not exactly “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” No, this is much more colorful, in every sense of the word.
‘Part of Me’ dispenses with much of the “setting up the tour” stuff that most concert movies seem saddled with these days. Instead, we get a brief prologue that stresses the truncated prep time the tour has, and we’re onto the show – and what a show it is. Perry has, since 2008, with the release of her debut One Of The Boys (buoyed by her inescapable “I Kissed A Girl” single), cultivated a singular style – one that emphasizes loud, brash primary colors and hyper-sexualized takes on things like candy canes that somehow still manage to be coy. (This look was amplified and refined with the release of the blockbuster 2010 album Teenage Dream.) On tour, things are taken to even more exaggerated heights. As one pre-teen fan screams, “It’s like being shot with an arrow of Katy Perry-ness,” and you know exactly what she means.
The stage looks like a psychedelic combination of several childhood board games mixed with an especially cheesy seventies children’s television series and topped off with a heavily lacquered layer of Disney fairy tale magic. She takes the stage like a shrunken Alice, her anime eyes all alight at the endless possibility of the fantasy laid out before her. Her stage presence is palpable and real, and the movie, directed by Dan Cutforth and Jape Lipsitz, and overseen by everyone from Ron Howard‘s producing partner Brian Grazer to pop songwriter Max Martin, makes you feel like you’re there – you can’t help but get caught up in all the DayGlo wonder. This sensation is enhanced, notably, by the film’s 3D effects – laser beams cut through the audience and smoke-filled bubbles that drift over your head.
Staples of the concert movie genre flit by – stories about how Perry plucked members of her production team from obscurity (and how together, they have ascended mightily), a prolonged section given to her biographical background, first as the daughter of preachers, then to her club kid youth and multiple failed attempts at a musical breakthrough (under everyone from Alanis Morrissette mentor Glen Ballard to production team The Matrix, plus the requisite barely-released gospel album) until finally her big break with the potent and omnipresent “I Kissed A Girl” (a song that her staunch parents, who now look more like evangelical lounge singers, still don’t approve of).
The stuff that most people will latch onto – and the section of the movie that was loudly greeted with boos and hisses from the largely teenage-girl audience – has to do with Perry and her failed marriage to British wild man Russell Brand. Since the movie takes place over all of 2011 we see the two fall in love, watch her desperate attempts to keep the marriage going through insane private jet trips to wherever he is, until its final dissolution. None of these moments ever feel too real or invasive (Perry is a producer and the entire movie has the feeling of being carefully culled for maximum pop-aesthetic potency) but it is more than you would have expected from a woman who has cultivated an air of mannered sensuality, complete with a bubbly “what-me-sexy?” personality that’s attractive without tipping into offensive. One moment has her visibly shaken before the biggest crowd of her career, clawing at her wedding ring and crying moments before she steps onstage. In that scene we watch Katy Perry The Person become Katy Perry The Pop Star, and it’s an impressive transition.
By the time the movie reaches its soaring climax, set to the strains of the smash hit “Firework,” you can’t help but be taken by Perry. Even if it is something of a put-on, the next, expertly furnished piece of the Katy Perry Corporate Machine, it comes across as being wholly sincere, just like the woman herself. You can feel her commitment to her fans, her willingness to work hard for what she perceives as perfection (and, when she beat out Michael Jackson for the most #1 singles from a single album, you see her come close), and her desperate fight for the survival of her marriage. It’s powerful stuff, even if it is wrapped up in goofball imagery and a kind of manic, cluttered energy. She is who she is. Maybe that’s just another part of the Perry persona – an aw-shucks wholesomeness that occasionally borders on cloying – but it doesn’t keep “Katy Perry: Part Of Me” from being an entertaining look into her world. [B]