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Katy Perry's romantic reality pierces 'Part of Me'

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Exactly one year ago this week we were announcing that Katy Perry's Chicago stop on her marathon California Dreams Tour was being postponed one month because of "an attack of food poisoning leading to severe dehydration," according to the promoter.

But after seeing "Katy Perry: Part of Me" -- the megastar's new concert movie and documentary, opening Thursday in 3-D -- it's clear the real culprit may have been pure and simple exhaustion.

'KATY PERRY: PART OF ME'
2<br />
and a half stars
Rated PG
117 minutes
Directed by Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth

Gripped by the G-forces of her own meteoric rise, "Part of Me" frames the singer's penchant for hollow spectacle while also documenting her spiral into overexertion and emotional turmoil. What sets out to be a chronicle of a superstar's outlandish world tour is peppered with moments of real human frailty, courtesy of a grueling, 124-concert schedule -- during which Perry's marriage to comedian Russell Brand crumbles, at one point reducing her to the fetal position and a wedding ring-flinging sobbing fit, all on camera.

The reality-show feel is no coincidence. "Part of Me" is directed by the absurdly nicknamed Magical Elves, aka Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth, the spin doctors behind such TV hits as "Top Chef," "Project Runway" and "The Real L Word." Lipsitz and Cutforth produced another 3-D concert-biopic, last year's "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never."

Like that film (or, for readers my age, like Madonna's "Truth or Dare"), "Part of Me" see-saws between crisp, colorful concert footage and more natural, gritty backstage/offstage drama. Thrown together in just eight weeks from hundreds of hours of footage, the overly positive, carefully constructed film amounts to barely more than a two-hour infomercial for the stylish star. But it has its moments -- many of them fleeting -- showing veil-piercing reality of the non-Bravo network kind.

She's frequently out of makeup, for starters. She visits her hilarious, grumpy grandmother in Las Vegas. She's frank about her youthful ambition and desire to escape her Pentecostal upbringing. (Her evangelist father, decked out in hipster goatee and red suede shirt, appears in the film. It's hard to fully appreciate her sheltered need to rebel until you see this guy.) The transition from 15-year-old gospel-rocker to 17-year-old L.A. party girl is appropriately stark.

But it's the surprise of her sudden success that is the focus here, as Perry, now 27, says, "I have been on a fast rocket holding on for dear life." She celebrates her record-breaking fifth No. 1 single from her second major-label album, "Teenage Dream," during this tour. The rocket blasts off -- and carries her right out of her marriage. Day 43 in Switzerland, she's pining for more days off to see Brand; day 105, she's reminiscing about her first date with Brand, who she says is "the love of my life." All the while, Perry's blue hair gets more frazzled, her impenetrable stage smile more forced.

By day 214, her romantic fate is clear. Perry combs her schedule for days off she can use to fly off to Brand (who we hardly see in this film). "Isn't he coming to see you?" someone asks. Covering her anguish with sarcastic cheer, Perry answers, "Well, he should ... but he's not." Day 287, she's curled up on the pre-show makeup table, unresponsive, weeping. ("She never cries," whispers a shocked staffer.) Her eventual perseverance is meant to be an inspiring, show-must-go-on tale of keeping calm and carrying on, though it's really just the umphundredth narrative of a mere human laid waste by the voracious demands of slavery to stardom. (That New York Times column about the folly of busy-ness making the rounds this week via Facebook shares? Perry needs to read it. Twice.)

What's not in "Part of Me": Perry's rebound guy, a French model; her early days on the Warped Tour and her controversial first major-label single, "Ur So Gay"; and Brand himself, who appears only twice, barely, before filing for divorce just last January, barely two years after they married.

In the end, Perry faces the reality of her situation: "The truth is that I'm a romantic and I believe in this fairytale. In some ways believing in fairytales is an advantage. But it still failed. I did everything I could and it still failed." Making a marriage work, she says, is "not like the movies."

She's quoting herself, of course -- one of her recent hits is "Not Like the Movies" -- but what remains to be seen at the end of this all-smiles Katython is what she'll do with the resulting emotions. Can she turn this real human experience into a powerhouse set of songs on par with Adele's "21"? Or will her third act merely continue the shtick at the end of this film, with Perry in a candy suit spraying the crowd with a whipped-cream gun?


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on July 2, 2012 10:31 PM.

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