I've never known quite what to make of Katy Perry, the pop star with the cutie-pie face and cream-squirting bra. Is she a populist performance artist? A feminist icon? Or just a singer striking a chord at the right cultural moment?
After seeing "Katy Perry: Part of Me," I'm still not sure, mainly because this self-promotional concert film never gave me a moment to form my own opinion. It opens with fan testimonials from people I don't trust (children, teenagers) and continues a blitzkrieg of accolades from people I'd call less than objective (managers, publicists). None of it feels patently false, but nothing in this highly manipulative movie feels entirely true, either.
Filmed during Perry's 2011 world tour, a triumph marred by a split from her husband, actor-comedian Russell Brand, "Part of Me" is a documentary in style only. Perry's biographical timeline -- from young Christian singer to hardworking megastar -- is interspersed with interviews ("It's like working with a friend," says Perry's assistant) and concert footage focusing on Perry's elaborate wardrobe. Perry's 2010 album, "Teenage Dream," became the first ever to generate five No. 1 singles, and all are included.
"Part of Me," directed by reality-show veterans Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz ("Project Runway," "Top Chef"), feels mostly harmless except when the subject turns to Brand. It's one thing to scissor him out of the picture -- you'll see him maybe thrice -- but "Part of Me" carefully builds a case against him, portraying Perry as a self-sacrificing wife unceremoniously dumped. ("She's running herself ragged," her manager Bradford Cobb testifies, laying the groundwork.) The scenes of Perry openly weeping sometimes seem less candid in context.
I'm willing to believe Perry is everything "Part of Me" says she is: kind, smart, talented, hardworking, deserving of success. I just wish the movie trusted me to decide for myself.
PLOT Onstage and backstage with the pop star on her 2011 world tour RATING PG (suggestive imagery, language, brief smoking)
CAST Katy Perry, Russell Brand
PLAYING AT Area theaters, some in 3-D
BOTTOM LINE This concert seems harmlessly self-promotional, though its one-sided, almost lawyerly case against Perry's estranged husband sours some of the fun.