I almost can’t believe that I went to the trouble of catching a bus to go and see Katy Perry‘s new 3D documentary film, Katy Perry: Part of Me. In 2D. Alone. During the school holidays.
Why put myself through that torture, you ask? It was mostly just morbid curiosity, combined with the urge to pen a scathing review of what I imagined would be the worst movie of 2012, but then something shocking happened: I saw Katy Perry’s movie, and I really fucking liked it.
Part of Me gives us a fly-on-the-wall look at the world’s biggest (and perhaps most irritating) pop star, documenting her rise to stardom and following the chart titan on her grueling 124-date California Dreams world tour. It makes for a fairly formulaic but surprisingly engaging rags-to-riches story set to a glittering pop soundtrack, with the often annoying, but also oddly likable Perry at the helm.
After seeing Beyonce’s contrived Year of 4 Youtube special and witnessing Katy’s shady chart stunts over the past two years, I was prepared for Part of Me to be some kind of semi-scripted, insincere debacle, so I was genuinely shocked at how authentic the film felt. A particularly touching moment showed Perry in the midst of her marriage breakdown to that awful Russell Brand, curled up and crying hysterically like a teenager backstage before a concert in Brazil. While I don’t doubt for a second that Katy was later seeing dollar signs at the chance to exploit her divorce drama to sell tickets to her movie, in the moment her sorrow was very real, and it wasn’t only a tad heartbreaking to see her in such a tearful state, but also disconcerting to witness her manager and assistant buzzing around her like a pair of vultures as they tried to coax the distraught songstress to get ready for her show.
While Part of Me generally focuses on the never-ending Teenage Dream era and the California Dreams tour, we still get a good look at Perry’s past and her rise to fame. That includes the now exhausted tale of her Christian upbringing, but also her time in L.A. as a struggling singer-songwriter — complete with personal video diaries from an 18-year-old Perry, who was clearly documenting her career from a young age with the belief that she’d probably need it in the future for a multi-million dollar 3D concert movie about her glamorous pop career.
One of the biggest turn offs with Katy has always been how shamelessly commercially-driven she is, but Part of Me not only helps you to understand her motives a bit more, but also to respect just how far she’s come. For starters, there’s her parents: her mother comes across as a chilly judgmental shrew, while her minister father looks like the kind of slimy preacher that travels from town to town scamming gullible Christian folk out of their hard earned cash, so it’s easy to see where Perry got her steely business savvy from. There’s also her early career as a wannabe Alanis Morisette struggling on the streets of L.A., trying desperately to become a star with her own brand of angsty singer-songwriter rock while being pinballed from label to label, before finally conceding defeat and saying, “Fuck it! Let me put on a cute outfit and just give me that song about kissing girls to sing.“‘
For a documentary concert film, it’s actually the performances that are the weakest part of the whole thing. The California Dreams tour is hideously garish, with messy production and a setlist of songs that, for the most part, don’t reflect Perry’s surprisingly strong voice at all. We’re only treated to her true vocal talent a few times throughout the film, and it’s usually when she’s singing something that didn’t come from her two multi-platinum pop albums.
Also, with Part of Me being a Katy Perry film and all, it certainly isn’t without a few cringeworthy moments. Seeing a flurry of teens and tweens profess how the “Hot n Cold” singer inspired them to be non-conformists and that her deep lyrics cure depression made me seriously worried for the youth of today, and Katy’s team trying to promote her artistic integrity after we just saw her ditch her angsty fem-rock to become a Top Forty superstar was hypocritical and a tad audacious.
Part of Me certainly didn’t show me a new side of Katy Perry, but it did help me to better understand the side that I already do see. I’m a cynical guy, but I left believing that the Katy Perry in the public eye, from the outrageous costumes to the bubblegum music, is a somewhat authentic extension of the former Miss Hudson (even if it is all expertly calculated and not exactly Perry’s first choice when it comes to the kind of artist that she’d like to be).
Yes Katy is still annoying, but after watching Part of Me, I like and respect her a lot more than I used to, and for a bitter diva like me whose sole intention of seeing this movie was just to rip her a new one, that’s quite an achievement.