A review of Katy Perry’s new film, Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D, could start with a discussion about whether propaganda—for instance, a documentary about a pop star financed by that pop star—qualifies as art. But instead, let’s focus on the scene at a recent screening I attended.
The crowd consisted almost entirely of teenage girls. Among the only men (other than me) were two Katy Perry impersonators in full drag, who worked at the venue, handing out special 3-D glasses. All of these glasses were pink. As the lights dimmed, a small voice in the row behind me whispered—“I’m crying already and it hasn’t even started!”
I do not know whether she actually cried (more on tears later), but fortunately, I had some help navigating Perry’s world of cotton-candy wigs and frosted bikini tops. To review Part of Me 3D, I brought along with me a panel of experts: six musically trained teenagers—four girls and two boys. None of them was a diehard Perry fan, but they all enjoy her songs. After the film ended, we headed to a nearby Magnolia Bakery for an intellectual conversation.
Like the Justin Bieber documentary before it—and the Miley Cyrus one before that—Perry selectively allows access to portions of her life backstage, while she’s on her California Dreams tour around the world. As an added bonus, this tour also coincided with her break-up with her husband, Russell Brand.
The early scenes in the film are intercut with hysterical fan confessionals. “Being weird is OK,” says one. A 17-year-old girl declares: “I have a dream in my life and she had a dream,” conveniently branding Perry as the Martin Luther King Jr. of pop stars. We learn about Perry’s childhood as the daughter of two evangelical pastors, and we meet her parents, her sister, her manager, her hairstylist, her assistant, and her hot brother. They all worship at the altar of Katy Perry.
Our panel was more divided.
Sophie Savides, 17
Plays piano, pop genealogy class, “I Heart Music.”
“My mouth started to hurt, because I couldn’t stop smiling. I loved it. I thought it was so much fun. I was really sucked into her world. I wanted to get up and sing and dance. I loved it so much. I love Glee. I’m a big sucker for stuff like that. My friend is literally obsessed with her, but I’m not that crazy. I’m a Katycat now. I didn’t even know that's what they're called. I want to go to one of her concerts so bad!”
Celia Eydeland, 17
Piano since 7, played at Carnegie Hall, music honors program.
“I knew there was not going to be any plot coming in, but there was actually no plot! It really had no purpose whatsoever. It was just a silly movie. It was overstretched. I thought it was boring and they didn’t really do anything. I could have watched that on E!”
Ben Rapaport, 17
Guitar, piano, drums.
“It was pretty funny. It obviously wasn’t intentionally a parody. When they show a buff 25-year-old dude in the crowd singing along to the words of ‘Last Friday Night’ or whatever song, it’s just—what are you trying to prove, Katy? You found the one guy in your audience singing your lyrics. And you have these girls actually freaking out about her being on stage. It’s ridiculous.”
The movie features roughly a dozen Perry songs, which intercut Perry’s own life story (the 3-D is mostly pointless, in the form of bubbles or glitter on the stage). Our panel gave her generally high marks on singing, and they especially praised her jazzy take on “I Kissed a Girl.”
Javen Lara, 14
Violin, guitar, studies classical music.
“She’s very skilled. I think there wasn’t any tweaking in her voice when she was doing her performances. The only downfall is a lot of repetition.
Repetition is the one thing that gets on my nerves—that’s why I don’t like the baroque era. A lot of classical musicians do repetition, which I’m not fond of.”
Emma Ike, 13
Classically trained violinist.
“I thought her performances were better than I thought they’d be. People are Auto-Tuned, but she seemed solid. She has a nice voice. Every song of Katy Perry’s, like ‘The One That Got Away,’ I’m there! I’m listening to that in my heartbroken moments if I’m depressed over a boy. I mean, I can’t listen to Mozart when I’m sad. It’s not really speaking to me in that way about breaking up.”
David Flomenbaum, 17
Former piano player.
“What I thought was good was that it was over the top. The set designs are really grandiose, and there are costume changes every five seconds. As far as what’s bad, I think some of it is gimmicky. Inviting everyone on stage is weird.”
This is by far the strangest part of the movie. Brand is glimpsed in early scenes being affectionate with Perry. Then as she continues her tour, various members of her team are concerned that he’s draining her, by refusing to visit her on the tour and forcing her to fly around the world to see him on her days off.
Their actual split is handled abruptly and without much context. One minute, Brand is texting her a picture of a McDonald’s and suggesting they name their son Ronald. The next, Perry is literally crumpled over in a room sobbing. We have no idea why.
When she addresses the issue on camera directly, she’s vague. She says that before she met Brand, she remembers hearing pop stars say that they were too busy for a boyfriend. But she thought, “I won’t ever have to choose,” because her partner would never “be threatened or have weird motives.” Cut to more crying!
Celia: “They gave no details. He was probably, like, this girl is whack. She’s trying to be cute all the time. She never seems to be a real person. He’s also kind of whack.”
Emma: “I don’t really know about their breakup, but from what I saw, it looked like Russell Brand is a d-bag and he never came to Katy and she was, like, depressed and cried.”
Ben: “When you hear about a breakup and they keep saying how Katy keeps putting so much effort in this relationship, she loves him so much, and then they get divorced—whose fault do you think that is from watching this movie? Obviously you think it’s Russell Brand’s fault. You’re trained to love Katy.”
Throughout the course of the film, Perry seems to hijack Lady Gaga’s message: that you were born this way. Which makes it a little awkward when she runs into Gaga at a music event.
Ben: “If you’re not a fan, you just want to see someone punch her in the face. Because the message is so contrived. Just be yourself. You can do it! I thought we were past that. And when she sees Lady Gaga in the movie, Lady Gaga looks at her like, Good job. I’m standing out more than you! Keep trying. I win.”
Javen: “I get the typical 'Be yourself' kind of thing. Life is tough, but you need to get through it. A lot of things are going to shut you down, but you need to stay strong. She doesn’t change herself for anyone. She’s just herself and that’s what makes her famous.”
While the movie is obviously targeted to girls, is there reason to bring your boyfriend?
David: “She wasn’t wearing much clothing a lot of the time. There’s that.”
Grading the Movie.
Ben and Emma: B.
Sophie: A. “I want to go back.”
Did You Cry?
Celia, David, Ben, Emma, Javen: “No.”
Sophie and I: “Yes.”