Peeling back Katy’s candied coating
By Stephanie Merry
Thursday, July 5, 2012
If the 3-D documentary “Katy Perry: Part of Me” can be trusted, the record-setting pop star is not just a blue-haired doll-person but also a goofy, sweet and spacey-yet-savvy singer whose main concern is turning average people into candy-coated smile flowers.
As a piece of pro-Perry propaganda, the entertaining and disarmingly poignant movie from directors and reality television vets Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz is a startling success. Although there are moments when the filmmakers’ fingerprints are nearly visible on the manipulated putty of an audience, the scenes aren’t enough to break the fruit-flavored spell.
The main thread of the movie follows the “Firework” singer during 2011. It was a particularly eventful year for Perry, who globe-trotted for her sold-out California Dreams Tour and also ended her 14-month marriage to scraggly British comedian Russell Brand. Backstage footage shares screen time with concert numbers, old home movies and interviews that chronicle Perry's relatively slow rise to success. It's a compelling story that mixes onstage moments — including the terrifying spectacle of screaming, crying fans — and behind-the-scenes glances, such as Perry's visit to her brassy grandmother, who is humorously less sugary sweet than her progeny.
Perry’s back story as the gospel-crooning daughter of Pentecostal ministers makes for a diverting plot, especially considering her first smash hit, “I Kissed a Girl.” The singer’s thwarted attempts at fame after moving to Los Angeles are equally absorbing. She comes across as smiley yet scrappy, the little engine that could write enough rousing hits to soundtrack a super-size spinning class.
Most noteworthy is the film’s ability to summon emotion. In a bit of dramatic irony, thanks to People magazine and Us Weekly, the audience knows Perry’s marriage is over while she’s still murmuring on-screen over having found the love of her life. Celebrity marriages, with their orchestrations and short life spans, can seem trivial, but the breakup actually causes a palpable sorrow.
Of course, discussions of the divorce feel awfully one-sided. There are frequent mentions of Perry’s long-haul trips to visit her husband, although he purportedly didn’t return the favor. It’s just one example of the filmmakers’ more overt machinations, which tend to distract, raising questions about what’s real and what’s hyperbole.
Speaking of drawbacks, the use of 3-D doesn’t add much to anything but ticket prices. A few moments during the concerts, when lasers or a spray of whipped cream make a convincing entry into the audience, aren’t enough to warrant wearing special glasses for 90 minutes. Besides, Perry doesn’t need any help popping off the screen, whether she’s wearing a costume with a pair of eye-catching spinning peppermints or headgear to embody her dorky alter ego, Kathy Beth Terry. She isn’t afraid to look like a goofball, which might be why her army of devotees adores her.
But fan or not, it’s hard not to give in to Perry’s endearing charms. The filmmakers clearly want the audience to like the singer -- and is that such a bad thing? She is, after all, cute as a cotton-candy-pink button.