There’s a scene toward the end of Katy Perry: Part Of Me where the singer is faced with the decision to cancel her show in São Paulo, Brazil, or go onstage in spite of the fact that her short-lived marriage to comedian Russell Brand has just imploded. The Perry of this scene stands in stark contrast to the figure the film has touted up to this point, a neon-hued goofball just oozing charisma and charm who asks, without irony, “How can you ever be too cartoony?” Her faded pink hair half-tucked beneath a wig cap, she sobs wordlessly while curled in the fetal position, removing her Brand-gifted jewelry one piece at a time as her handlers look on and mutter in worried voices. A few moments later, she’s made her way to the platform beneath the stage, and in full concert regalia—a peppermint-swirl-themed bustier with spinning breastplates—chokes back sobs as she struggles to plaster on a smile before ascending to a sea of chanting fans. It’s an instance of genuine emotion in a film that’s chock-full of manufactured artifice (and proud of it), and it sets up a spontaneous moment where Perry’s fans fortify her at a crucial point, a legitimately poignant experience that’s worth more than all the film’s various platitudes combined.
And boy, are there platitudes. Part Of Me comes from the same studio and distributer as 2011’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and it’s a nearly note-for-note re-creation of that film’s mix of inflated origin story, fan-service montage, and sparkly 3-D concert footage. It hits all the same rising-pop-phenomenon beats: “It Gets Better”-style webcam confessionals from fans praising the Power Of Perry; old videos recounting Perry’s early days as the God-fearing daughter of Pentecostal ministers; and various managers and family members gravely recounting Perry’s struggle to ascend from the Christian-music ghetto, through a quagmire of major-label jumping, and into the warm, welcoming bosom of Capitol Records. Presented as a combination of talking-head interviews and home video, interspersed with concert footage and occasional moments of staged fan interaction, Part Of Me often feels like the offspring of E! True Hollywood Story and an infomercial for Katy Perry Inc. But then there’s Brand, lurking in the background during the early performances of Perry’s 11-month California Dreams world tour, a reminder that Perry has at least one more big, leather-pantsed speed bump ahead on her whirlwind victory lap.
Part Of Me makes an effort to transition from the Brand fiasco to an uplifting conclusion, but it’s half-hearted at best, as Perry continues to visibly struggle against tears as she talks about moving on and helps her sister pick out a wedding dress while making maudlin jokes about putting one on hold for herself. There are interesting themes to be gleaned from the whole marriage debacle, especially combined with the artifice-as-true-self ideals that make up the Perry mythology; but they have little room to develop within the docu-concert format, and are quickly shooed away to make room for more eye-popping 3-D live footage.
Were it a pure concert film, Part Of Me would be an exhilarating, if somewhat cheap, movie-going experience: There are few live performances better-suited to the 3-D format than Perry’s, what with its numerous mid-song costume changes, army of dancers and aerialists, and barrage of 3-D-friendly accoutrements like bubbles, lasers, and foam cannons. It’s pure eye candy and proud of it; hell, Perry herself dresses as literal candy more often than not. But the songs are rarely presented in full, serving instead to comment upon and transition between the documentary elements. Although there are strong elements on both sides of the film’s documentary-concert film hyphenate, Part Of Me’s hybrid format ultimately proves an uneasy marriage, and does a disservice to Perry as both a performer and a human being by never reconciling what happens in the space between those two lives.