Mega-pop stardom doesn’t always translate well to film, with more than a few musicians proving just too unmarketable on camera, for any number of reasons. Singer-songwriter Katy Perry could turn out to be just the opposite, however; if the new documentary featuring the multiplatinum star gets major traction, fans could develop a decided preference for her onscreen image rather than simply settling for her music.
Although Katy Perry: Part of Me might not convert legions of new admirers, that hardly matters with the well-proven scope of her following. Regardless, this is still powerhouse counterprogramming opposite the Amazing Spider-Man onslaught and should pay healthy dividends over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and on through the summer as it accumulates substantial repeat business. Whether Monday’s sneak previews in 100 cities specifically for Perry’s Twitter followers will boost attendance depends on converting online adherents to actual ticket buyers, a major unknown.
By now the details of Perry’s life and career are perhaps too well known: Raised in a Pentecostal Christian family in Santa Barbara, Calif., she recorded a religious-themed album as a teenager and then headed for the bright lights of Los Angeles, where she struggled as a singer-songwriter, bouncing between a couple of labels before settling at Capitol Records, which released her 2008 major-label debut, One of the Boys. Several tracks from that release, co-produced by Glen Ballard (who guided Perry’s professional role model Alanis Morissette), subsequently blew up, including the boyfriend-bashing “UR So Gay,” anthemic “Hot N Cold” and breakout hit “I Kissed a Girl.”
The album’s mix of confessional — if rather superficial — introspection and sexed-up sassiness set the stage for 2010’s Teenage Dream, Perry’s follow-up that made her the only female performer to chart five No. 1 hits on a single album — tying all-time record-holder Michael Jackson with the likes of “California Gurls,” “Firework” and the title track.
By the time her totally sold-out 22-country California Dreams tour came around in 2011, Perry, 27, already was a major star with a sizable entourage, whimsically produced high-tech stage shows and a celebrity-actor boyfriend, British comedian Russell Brand. Launching a yearlong, 124-show tour across Europe, South America and Asia before returning to the U.S., Perry seems determined to show she’s the hardest-working chick in showbiz, even if she makes clear she has a platoon of handlers, stylists and backup singer-dancers supporting her.
An amalgam of angsty singer-songwriters and celebrity starlets — including Morissette, Liz Phair and bad-girl-phase Britney Spears, not to mention Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth — Perry’s carefully crafted persona is pitched to appeal to (mostly) female enthusiasts of nearly any age, but quite a few boys and men are onboard with her sexy, self-empowerment pop message as well. With lavishly applied makeup, outrageously colored hairstyles and eye-popping costumes emphasizing her bust- and waistlines, Perry sometimes impresses as a dress-up doll with attitude.
Aggressively promoting the movie’s tagline “Be yourself and you can be anything,” her on-camera interviews and archival footage from her childhood position Perry as a driven artist inspired by a personal dream that she has pursued relentlessly. And her musical talent is considerable: She writes or co-writes her songs; performs with powerful, alternately sweet and raspy vocals; and accompanies herself on acoustic and electric guitar. Her pop-powered songwriting is distinctly pitched to appeal to a broad demographic, consisting primarily of white, middle-class fans attracted to catchy tunes and sassy lyrics.
The filmmakers go to significant lengths to establish the behind-the-scenes tone of the production, giving notable on-camera time to Perry’s manager Bradford Cobb; her personal assistant, Perry’s sister Angela, a tour co-producer;, and even her stylist and makeup artist. While the filmmakers don’t attempt to hide the slightly scandalous details of her shift away from her strict Christian upbringing and brief, disastrous marriage to Brand, whether any of these scenes are actually scripted is perhaps debatable, but more than a few appear set to capitalize on the inherent drama of the tour and Perry’s outsized personal life.
Perry’s parents, still traveling Pentecostal ministers, as well as her older sister, younger brother and sprightly grandmother lend a more intimate perspective to the project. The performer features in almost all of these scenes too, reinforcing the impression that the film is as much about Perry the brand as it is about the music.
“Katy Kat’s” followers are equally devoted to both Perry the performer and Perry the musician. The sex-kitten alternative to Lady Gaga’s perplexing chameleon persona, her charisma with concertgoers is impressive as she chats them up at carefully managed backstage meet-and-greets or pulls them out of the crowd to dance ecstatically with her entourage onstage. “I feel a bit like I live in a fairytale,” she says at one point, and seems determined to deliver the same experience at her concerts.
Perry’s live shows are spectacles of excess, with massive candy-colored sets, theatrical stage lighting and flashy pyrotechnics. Although interviews absorb a significant amount of the total running time, the live performance footage delivers in an equally visceral way, with Perry parading out hits like “E.T.,” “Part of Me,” “Hot N Cold,” “Teenage Dream,” “Peacock” and a stripped-down version of “I Kissed a Girl,” then wrapping up the movie with two of her biggest hits.
Released by Paramount’s Insurge Pictures label and directed by Magical Elves Productions duo Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (the studio-filmmaker team behind Justin Bieber: Never Say Never), Part of Me is a slickly produced entertainment package crafted to appeal directly to Perry’s core following — 22.4 million of them on Twitter alone. (Twitter is pairing with the star and Insurge to promote the film, which features frequent onscreen tweets from Perry’s fans.)
A mix of interviews, reality TV-style behind-the-scenes footage and 3D concert scenes, the movie is attractively, if conventionally, assembled. The live performances in particular feature an energized sheen sometimes missing from Perry’s music videos featuring the very same songs. Although arguably more of an adulatory artist profile than a bona fide concert doc, the movie is still likely to surpass even Perry’s personal aspiration — “My goal is simple: to make people smile.”
Opens: July 5 (Paramount)
Production companies: Insurge Pictures Presents An Imagine Entertainment / Perry / Direct Management Group Production
Directors: Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz
Producers: Brian Grazer, Katy Perry, Martin Kirkup, Bradford Cobb, Steven Jensen
Executive producers: Craig Brewer, Randy Phillips, Michael Rosenberg, Erica Huggins, Edward Lovelace, James Hall
Music: Deborah Lurie
Editors: Scott Evans, Brain David Lazarte, Scott Richter
Rated PG, 100 minutes