Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 19, 2012)
In recent years, the big-screen concert movie has enjoyed a bit of a resurgence. This has occurred mainly thanks to teen idols, as flicks from Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber made sizable profits.
Those two might be the exceptions to the rule, though. Their success ensured imitators, but none of the others did as well. Concert films from the Jonas Brothers and the cast of Glee couldn’t make it to $20 million. Even a 3D Katy Perry release with a good summer distribution date topped out around a mere $25 million.
Of all these acts, only Perry holds any appeal to me. Indeed, I saw the tour in question, as I caught a Perry show when she came to my area in the summer of 2011. This left me curious to see how the “California Dream” tour translated to film via Katy Perry: Part of Me.
Don’t expect a straight concert flick here, though, as Part combines stage footage with documentary elements. Actually, the latter dominate, as we get many comments from Perry as well as managers Steve Jensen and Bradford Cobb, stylist Johnny Wujek, makeup artist Todd Delano, assistant Tamra Natisin, sister Angela Hudson, brother David Hudson, parents Keith and Mary Hudson, photographer Mark Hunter, friends Shannon Woodward, Mia Moretti, record producer Glen Ballard, former Columbia publicist Angelica Cob-Baehler, former Capitol Records CEO Jason Flom, and singers Jessie J, Rihanna and Adele.
As for stage performances, we see parts of these songs: “Teenage Dream”, “Hot n Cold”, “Hummingbird Heartbeat”, “Who Am I Living For?”, “I Kissed a Girl”, “ET”, "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)", “Last Friday Night (TGIF)”, “Peacock”, “Not Like the Movies”, “The One That Got Away”, “Firework” and “California Gurls”.
In addition to these modern elements, we get plenty of archival footage of Perry. We see her from childhood through teens and at various stages in her career.
Although I originally compared Part of Me to modern concert films, it’s really more like a much tamer version of Madonna’s Truth or Dare than anything else. Part devotes a great deal of time to Perry’s biography and personal side; it almost revels in its look at the disintegration of Perry’s marriage to Russell Brand.
This leaves the concert footage on the sidelines more than I’d like. The “California Dreams” show was a fun one, and I’d enjoy a good representation of it on home video. Not only does Part omit substantial portions of the concert, but also it truncates the songs; you’ll find no unedited/uninterrupted tunes here. “Firework” and “Gurls” look complete, but they’re not; while they lack the obvious chopping of the others, they’re still abbreviated.
While I remain disappointed that Part lacks great focus on the concert stage, it’s still a pretty interesting movie. Yeah, at times it comes across as an homage to the Greatness That Is Katy. After all, it launches with video testimonials from folks who tell us how Katy inspired them, and the concert scenes can’t resist copious shots of adoring fans.
It’s definitely not as frank as Truth or Dare, though one gets the impression that Perry keeps a tight enough lid on things that she’d not allow such a “warts and all” portrayal. It’s nice that we get comments about her travails in showbiz and her super-religious upbringing, but there’s nothing to compare with the “I don’t give a crap” attitude Madonna showed in her documentary. There you got the feeling that Madonna was willing to let it all hang out; love her, hate her, she didn’t care. Part comes with an “officially authorized” feel that Truth or Dare lacked.
It does seem more frank when it gets into Perry’s breakup with Brand, though. Again, I suspect this hit the screen with Perry’s approval, and these scenes ultimately go back to the portrayal of Perry as always Being There For Her Fans; I don’t think Perry would allow anything that would potentially make her look bad.
Nonetheless, it’s startling to see the depths of her depression and how this affected the tour. Apparently she and Brand split while the show was in South America, and to see it told here, this nearly harpooned the concert, as Perry couldn’t stop crying. It’s fairly remarkable to see how Perry struggles to get herself together before she takes the stage; I’d love to check out a complete video of that particular concert.
In the end, Part of Me is a decent hybrid concert film/documentary, but it’s not a great one. There’s too little live footage for it to satisfy viewers who want to re-experience the “California Dreams” tour, and the behind the scenes elements usually feel fairly superficial. As a Perry fan, I enjoyed the movie, but I think its approach limits its rewatchability. I’d have been happier with a more straightforward concert flick.
By the way, if I die young, I’m going to blame the noxious goo that came out of the water gun during “California Gurls”. I don’t know what that slop was, but it coated me and it was disgusting. It combined with copious amounts of confetti to turn me into a sticky, glittery mess for days.