The Katy Perry Documentary "Part of Me" Has Some Substance Beneath Its Candy-Coating Review

Katy Perry is a cotton candy confection of a pop star, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She personifies pop, in the sugary, empty-calories sense that Coca-Cola also does, and her music is for many people, me included, just as enjoyable as that beverage, albeit just as much of a guilty pleasure. One would expect Katy Perry: Part of Me to be a nonstop giddy-girly gigglefest, like having a sleepover with your best friend who also happens to be a pop star who shoots shaving cream out of her bra onto thousands of fans. Yet there are also a large share of surprisingly dark moments within the film, which is a documentary chronicling the year Perry spent on tour promoting her mega-hit album Teenage Dream to sold-out arenas around the world.  It offers the viewer a glimpse inside the world of pop music, with the challenges faced in becoming a star as well as in maintaining one’s personal life in the process.

The film is enjoyable, though the 3D is most definitely gratuitous. Perry spares no expense when it comes to glitzy costumes and outrageous, in-your-face sets; yet everything is already so bright and glittery and over-the-top that 3D pushes it over the edge from flashy into too much for the eyes to handle. It’s especially off-putting during scenes that are shot in stereotypical documentary style, shaky and out of focus. Even though the 3D aspect is not being utilized in those scenes, it still adds a wobbly quality to the visuals that distracts the viewer from the true spectacle at hand.

And boy, is it a spectacle. During performances of songs like “Hot 'n Cold,” Perry jumps up and down like a pogo stick and changes costumes a number of times, each one more cartoonish than the next (Perry herself even says at one point, There’s no such thing as being too cartoonish!” ) Even if you’re not a fan of her songs or her vocals, her natural talent as a performer cannot be denied. The girl has charisma and passion for what she does, and it comes across in every performance featured over the course of the film. From number-one hits like “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls” to lesser-known tunes like “Peacock” and “Not Like the Movies,” each number is as unique as Perry is—a message of zany acceptance that her fans have embraced and channeled into their massive adoration of her. The film's tagline, “Be Yourself and You Can Be anything,” sums up the essence of Perry’s appeal, both onstage and off, and that point is driven home in Part of Me time and time again.

The performances are definitely the highlights of the film, because they are sheer fun. Less fun, though equally interesting, is the documentation of Perry’s marriage (and subsequent divorce) to British comedian Russell Brand. Naturally the wonderful world of film editing, and the fact that this is a movie about Perry, not Brand, makes their break-up look rather one-sided. To be blunter, it makes Brand look like a total jerk that put forth no effort while Perry was going out of her way to travel across the world to see him in between shows on her already-exhausting tour. This may or may not be true; either way, scenes that showcase the usually-bubbly Perry breaking down, crying hopelessly, and nearly refusing to go onstage are rather heartbreaking. Considering that she strives to emulate Dorothy of Oz and Alice of Wonderland, iconic figures of fantasy, these scenes of sadness show that Perry has a side apart from her onstage persona. They humanize the cartoon character in a way that increases one’s respect and affection for her.

Perry has had a long and arduous journey from being the sheltered daughter of Pentecostal preachers to prancing around onstage in a Hershey’s Kiss bikini top.  Video diaries she recorded at the age of 18 upon moving to Los Angeles and witnessing regular pop culture and urban life for the first time are sweet and relatable, even if your parents weren’t so strict as to ban all movies other than Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Interviews with her family, friends, and coworkers stress how much they feel she has earned her right to the spotlight. After watching the film, one can’t help but agree. When Perry’s mother tells her she won’t watch her on MTV, especially if she’s only partially clothes, and rants about her daughter’s first hit single “I Kissed a Girl,” it’s easy to see why Perry eventually rebelled. It’s also nice to see that she’s still close with her parents anyways, rather than playing up the stereotype of the “good girl gone bad”—yet another way in which the real Perry differs from the pop star persona.

It’s not as eye-opening or iconic as other concert tour films, such as Madonna: Truth or Dare, but Part of Me is a great portrait of one of pop music’s biggest stars. Katy Perry is such an outrageous and larger-than-life performer that her shtick works on the big screen (though as previously mentioned, not in 3D). A ticket to Part of Me is a much more affordable way to enjoy Perry’s live shows than shelling out for an actual concert, and you get the additional bonus of seeing the real Perry offstage and out of character. It’s not as much pure froth as you’d expect, but it’s still super fun.

"Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D" opens July 5, 2012 and is rated PG. Concert, Documentary. Directed by Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz. Starring Katy Perry.

Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 


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