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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Katy Perry: Part of Me

You bet your ass I'm reviewing the Katie Perry movie.

Last year, we were treated to a 3D documentary about Justin Bieber that ended up being far more enjoyable than its subject would ever dare to suggest. Now, the teen-driven pop world is trying its hand at much the same thing again, but this time with a pop starlet that, though her music is only marginally better, promises to up the fun ante quite a bit. And I say this not only as a hot-blooded, straight male but as someone who likes their disposable pop music with personality and a bit of a campy edge.

The things that are wrong with Katy Perry: Part of Me are so obvious that they barely deserve mentioning but, as you may have guessed, it is a film that is, at its heart, a fairly crass vanity project that is more a shameless bit of self-promotion and self celebration, decidedly less a biting documentary. Musically too, the results are not that surprising but, I for one, still find I Kissed a Girl to be a solidly catchy and fun pop song that is better than most of the totally un-catchy and un-fun dreck one normally finds on pop radio. Also, if her performances here are any indication, I'm not quite sure how she earned the unfortunate reputation of being a truly awful live singer. She's not going to go down as one of the greatest singers of all time, but I've heard far worse.

Now, if it seems I'm being overly defensive of Katy Perry, that should simply be taken as a testament to how well she comes across in the film - which is all the more impressive considering what the directors (reality TV veterans, Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz) had to work with. Her story is, to say the least, not a particularly interesting one. Her journey to pop stardom isn't massively different from any other pop music success story and even her struggle between a rigidly Christian upbringing and her current status as a secular music icon and sex symbol comes across as one that's fairly easily resolved. Jerry Lee Lewis she ain't.

There's an attempt to capture a similarly fervent level of fan hysteria that was the driving force of the Bieber doc, but her fans never come across as anything more than your average pop fans - though perhaps more polite than many. The film does show how detrimental her career has been to her personal relationships, most notably with Russel Brand but there's nothing particularly illuminating about this either. Admittedly, I have to give credit to the filmmakers for portraying that particular crumbling relationship with, if not a light touch, then at least a sensitive one that does go some way to reminding us that there are actual people beyond the shamelessly exploitative tabloid stories. Credit too, must go to Perry herself who, though she clearly uses the film to show her side of her relationship with Brand, but she keeps it almost entirely free of malice and ugly mud slinging.

Of course, that, right there, is the reason why the film works as well as it does. I don't really care about her music and, for all the glamour of her pop personality, I can't say that she's the most intriguing of documentary subjects but she does come across as a person that is all but impossible not to like. Unlike many an overly-costumed and gimmicky pop star, Katy Perry has actual personality to spare, coming across as warm, fun and self-deprecatingly funny. It may be a facade but, if so, it's a damn good one.

The one genuinely moving and insightful moment in the film - Perry, mere moments before hitting the stage and facing an adoring crowd, almost physically forces a smile out of the crippling pain and heartache of her personal life - really says it all. What should come across as cynical, forced, even creepy, instead feels heartbreakingly sad, which is not something I would have ever thought I would find myself saying about a freaking Katy Perry movie.

Make no mistake, Katy Perry: Part of Me is every bit as cynical, self-serving and fluffy as its dubious intentions make it out to be and I would never, ever recommend it over truly great music films but, thanks to the sheer, unimpeachable charisma of its star, it ends up being infinitely better than it has any right to be. In this case, that really is as high a praise as I could possibly give: it's not nothing to take a film that should be ripped out of cinemas in protest and turning it into something that is not just watchable but likable. If the whole pop star thing doesn't work out, Katy Perry really ought to find away to rent out her natural charm to certain big-name stars desperately in need of it. And they say selling a bajillion records is a good way to get rich...    

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