Pop starlet's new film blends 3D concert show-stoppers with biographical drama
Katy Perry's "Part of Me" is a gamble: that pop fans will follow her from the arena to the movie theater. But the film, following in the recent success of Michael Jackson's "This Is It" and Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never," should have no trouble drawing her Katy Cats to the multiplex.
"Part of Me" is a concert movie, a tour documentary and "Behind the Music"-style biography all at once, a balance it strikes perfectly. Its narrative is clear: in 2011, Perry sets out on the biggest tour of her life as her sophomore album, "Teenage Dream," ascends the charts and scores a record-setting five No. 1 singles. To casual observers, Perry's rise might seem like an overnight success, a myth the film is intent on squashing. "Part of Me" peels back the fairy tale, showcasing Perry's religious upbringing, her years of label struggles and finally, her divorce from comedian Russell Brand, alongside powerhouse performances from her "California Dreams" stadium tour and gushing footage of her adoring fans.
Though the movie skimps on parts of her history -- her stint on the Warped Tour and a tabloid-chronicled 2008 break-up from longtime boyfriend Travis McCoy of Gym Class Heroes are notably absent -- fans will be pleased to see an intimate portrait of her rise to fame that's full of vintage footage and charming behind-the-scenes moments. The vintage material is especially revelatory: an 18-year-old Perry offers the film's boldest confessionals, and rare music videos of her Alanis Morissette-influenced pre-fame songs are a surprising treat.
The 2011 tour is the visual highlight: the performances are eye-popping, making full use of the film's 3D to showcase Perry's rainbow-colored dancers and elaborate stage. The show-stoppers include her first hit, "I Kissed a Girl" -- reimagined here as a slow jam that builds into a hard rock anthem -- and the film-closing "California Gurls," which explodes the screen into floating layers of confetti. There's also a payoff involving a candy-cane weapon that will please theater nerds familiar with Chekov's Gun.
While "Part of Me" reveals a number of personal moments, the most endearing are the silly ones -- Katy giving her unimpressed grandmother a tour jacket (Grandma nearly steals the movie), or jumping in shock when she feels a pregnant fan's baby kick. Of all Perry's relationships, it's the one with her fans that seems closest to her heart: we see her struggling through exhaustion to go to another meet-and-greet and feeling overwhelmed on stage when Brazilian fans start an impromptu "We love you" chant. "I wish I could speak Portuguese," she says, glowing.
Her whirlwind relationship with Brand, a controversial character in his own right, is carefully inserted among her sugar-sweet career achievements. He makes brief but powerful appearances in the film: after one hometown show, he greets her with a pet name ("Hi, Sausage!") as she tells him she always sings better when he's in the audience. It's a sincere, touching moment -- it's also the last we see of him, as Perry's endless trek blurs into a global montage of candy imagery and long flights. Their split is handled with a montage of TV news headlines, and in the film's heaviest scene, a crying Perry is unwilling to share her private tragedy with her manager and assistant before pulling it together and taking the stage.
"Part of Me" is ultimately an underdog story, the tale of a girl who wouldn't give up on her own teenage dream. It's an aspirational worldview shared by Bieber, who cameos in the film and showed his support at Tuesday night's Hollywood premiere -- which saw its pink carpet graced by Selena Gomez and Carly Rae Jepsen, who's beginning her own Perry-esque rise -- and why not? Throughout the film, Perry is portrayed as a indefatigable worker, the "CEO of Katy Perry" -- and if that's the kind of savvy and hustle that inspires the young fans whose testimonials frame the movie, her biggest dreams may be yet to come true.