We’ve seen this kind of docu-mercial before, most recently from Justin Bieber in the 2011 film “Never Say Never.”
That was a 3-D film loaded with vibrant concert footage that documented Bieber’s rise from small-town, single-parent life to the dizzying heights of international fame.
As that narrative progressed, Bieber was cast as a vulnerable, well-mannered kid who is loyal to his mother and childhood friends, humbled and untarnished by the spoils of fame. It had the tone of a slick, flattering biopic broadcast before a presidential candidate is presented at a political convention.
“Katy Perry: Part of Me,” opening Thursday, is a 3-D film that applies a similar format. Perry is portrayed as a young girl raised in an evangelical Pentecostal Christian family, but she has the evil show-biz bug. She tries to sate that urge via Christian music, but after hearing an Alanis Morissette song, the itch gets deeper and more primal. So she heads from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to pursue her dream.
Along the way, she gets accepted, rejected and pigeonholed, told she needs to become something she isn’t but …
You can track the rest of the story from here because among video footage of Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson growing up and expressing her grandiose desires to be famous, we see lavish and dynamic 3-D footage of her epic 2011 world tour. Destination known: She made it, in a huge way.
What separates this story from others, however, is what happened while Perry was logging time and miles in nearly every corner of every hemisphere during that tour. Her celebrity marriage to Russell Brand was coming apart at the seams. In December, the end of the 14-month marriage became official.
So as the couple kiss and swoon and share romantic tweets early in the film, including Brand’s suggestion of what their first child should be named, we know where things are headed.
The impending crash colors the entire film. Perry is portrayed as a friendly, self-effacing woman who is uncommonly comfortable in her own skin, a charmer with a quick wit and bright smile. The film includes several moments of her without a swipe of makeup, sometimes when she is barely awake from a hard night’s sleep.
We hear testimonials from her siblings and best friends. We also see her interact with her family, including an endearing encounter with her grandmother, and with her staff and a few hordes of fans who bombard her during meet-and-greets. There is even a fart scene. Throughout, she comes off as an appealing sport: humble, patient and much funnier than the comedian who asked her for the divorce.
Films like these are like reality TV. Everyone knows where the cameras are and when they’re on, so the authenticity can be suspect. But as “Part of Me” progresses, it becomes evident to all that there is poison in paradise. It culminates when Perry is so stricken with heartache it seems that a concert before a huge crowd in Sao Paulo, Brazil, might be in jeopardy.
We know what’s going to happen. There’s a “show must go on” scene we’ve seen in movies going back to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. But during the concert, the fans reach a fevered, rabid pitch and start to chant “We love you, Katy” in Portuguese. Overwhelmed, she can’t resist weeping for a short spell.
Filmmaking can be all about manipulation, and there is plenty of that going on in “Part of Me,” often blatantly. The film opens and closes with testimonials from fans in their preteens and 20s saying how Perry’s music has helped them through the rigors of pre-adolescence and young adulthood. That may seem hard to swallow if your exposure to her and her music is superficial. But the concert footage shows just how viscerally her songs affect her fans — it’s evangelical, you could say.
But that, too, is all done with crafty direction and editing. What resonates in this film is the personal thread of the narrative that erupted unexpectedly, which is epitomized in one brief moment.
During the epilogue, Perry, the heroine who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer during her climb to fame, admits a few things: She is blessed and she is lucky, but sometimes you can try your hardest to succeed at something that matters deeply and still fail. Nonetheless, you must go on. And when an interviewer says, “But, you miss him,” she cracks and weeps again.