[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
Ah, July 2012. A time when we thought it was still slightly possible that Mitt Romney would be our next president.
But something equally unlikely happened that month: The Katy Perry hagiography, Katy Perry: Part of Me, came out, and it was amazing. No seriously, hear us out.
It chronicled her tumultuous divorce from comedian Russell Brand, and her biggest tour to date. Sounds like the kind of thing that nobody but teeny-bopping Perry fans and creepy old guys would be interested in, right?
Indeed, everyone expected it to be a cheeseball, glitter-soaked, self-serving, cinematic snooze, and indeed The Detroit News called it an “electronic press kit” while Slate labeled it “phony and staged.”
But believe it or not, they were among the outliers; the film overall got pretty good reviews from critics, and Huffington Post called it the best pop music documentary of the 3-D era. It was even a box office success, and is the 8th highest-grossing documentary of all time.
Yes, there were moments that were clearly for her, um, Katy Kats. (Let us never say those words again). Of course Part of Me makes Perry look good, after all, she produced it.
But the documentary really succeeds in making her likeable, which is not as easy as it sounds. Because, if the pop songstress is really faking her amicable personality here, then she is the best actor we've ever seen.
As for the story itself, it's fascinating, relatable, captivating even. The movie follows Perry as a child growing up in Santa Barbara as the daughter of pentecostal preachers and then moving to L.A. as a teen to try to make it in music. There are interviews with Perry's sister and brother, who explain how it took years and a lot of financial suffering before Perry broke out with “I Kissed a Girl.”
Then the film shifts to present times, as she lives what appears to be a fantasy while on her world tour. At the same time, however, she's going through great struggle attempting to maintain her marriage with Brand.
The most moving moment is when Perry is weeping over their break-up backstage at her biggest concert in Brazil. Her manager asks if she wants to postpone the performance but, although horribly depressed, she decides the show much go on. She puts on her candy cane dress and mounts a moving platform up to the stage. While performing, Perry breaks out in tears as her fans scream, “Katy, we love you!” in Portuguese.
The fan aspect is important to the film: It opens with a YouTube clip of a 22-year-old girl covering “The One That Got Away” and transitions to video blogs of young fans explaining why Perry inspires them. There's also a touching meet and greet between Perry and a boy from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Visually, it's well-crafted. There's slo-mo in the right places, and interviews and candid backstage shots break up any concert-footage monotony. There are also cartoon-ish sound effects — like Superman swooshes and Nickelodean-esque splatter noises — which somehow work.
Part of Me doesn't present Perry as flawless. We see her with and without makeup, dancing onstage in a dress that looks like an ice cream sundae and crying her eyes out about Russell Brand. Who knows what was left on the cutting room floor, but one suspects we got the honest stuff.
In the end, Part of Me succeeds because you don't have to be a Katy Perry fan to enjoy it. You may become one by the end, but to the film's credit, you won't feel manipulated.
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