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‘Katy’ movie shows Perry’s life is no teenage dream

Katy Perry 2011 concert Chicago. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Katy Perry at 2011 concert in Chicago. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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‘Katy Perry:
part of me’ ★★ ½

Paramount presents a concert documentary directed by Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth. Running time: 117 minutes. Rated PG (for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking). Opening Thursday at local theaters, with midnight screenings Wednesday at select locales.

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Updated: August 5, 2012 6:18AM

Exactly one year ago this week, we were announcing in these pages that Katy Perry’s Chicago stop on her marathon “California Dreams” tour was being postponed because of “an attack of food poisoning leading to severe dehydration.”

But after seeing “Katy Perry: Part of Me” — the megastar’s new 3-D concert movie and documentary, opening Thursday — it’s clear the real culprit may have been pure and simple exhaustion.

Channeling the g-forces of her own meteoric rise, “Part of Me” frames the singer’s penchant for hollow spectacle while also documenting her spiral into overexertion and emotional turmoil. What sets out to be a chronicle of a superstar’s outlandish world tour is peppered with moments of real human frailty, courtesy of a grueling, 124-concert schedule — during which Perry’s marriage to comedian-actor Russell Brand crumbles, at one point reducing her to the fetal position and a wedding ring-flinging sobbing fit, all on camera.

The reality-show feel is no coincidence. “Part of Me” is directed by the absurdly nicknamed Magical Elves, aka Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth, the spin doctors behind such TV hits as “Top Chef,” “Project Runway” and “The Real L Word.” Lipsitz and Cutforth last year produced another 3-D concert-biopic, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.”

Like that film (or, for readers my age, like Madonna’s “Truth or Dare”), “Part of Me” see-saws between crisp, colorful concert footage and more natural, gritty backstage/offstage drama. Thrown together in just eight weeks from hundreds of hours of footage, the overly positive, carefully constructed film amounts to barely more than a two-hour infomercial for the stylish star. But it has its moments — many of them fleeting — showing her veil-piercing reality.

She’s frequently out of makeup, for starters. She visits her hilarious, grumpy grandmother in Las Vegas. She’s frank about her youthful ambition and desire to escape her Pentecostal upbringing. (Her evangelist father, decked out in hipster goatee and red suede shirt, appears in the film. It’s hard to fully appreciate her need to rebel until you see this guy.) The transition from 15-year-old gospel-rocker to 17-year-old L.A. party girl is appropriately stark.

But it’s the surprise of her sudden success that is the focus here, as Perry, now 27, says, “I have been on a fast rocket holding on for dear life.” She celebrates her record-breaking fifth No. 1 single from her second major-label album, “Teenage Dream,” during this tour. The rocket blasts off — and carries her right out of her marriage. On day 43 in Switzerland, she’s pining for more days off to see Brand; on day 105, she’s reminiscing about her first date with Brand, who she says is “the love of my life.” All the while, her blue hair gets more frazzled, her impenetrable stage smile more forced.

By day 214, her romantic fate is clear. Perry combs her schedule for days off she can use to fly off to Brand (who we hardly see in this film). “Isn’t he coming to see you?” someone asks. Covering her anguish with sarcastic cheer, Perry answers, “Well, he should … but he’s not.” Day 287, she’s curled up on the pre-show makeup table, unresponsive, weeping. (“She never cries,” whispers a shocked staffer.) Her eventual perseverance is meant to be an inspiring, show-must-go-on tale of keeping calm and carrying on, though it’s really just the umphundredth narrative of a mere human laid waste by the voracious demands of slavery to stardom.

In the end, Perry faces the reality of her situation: “The truth is that I’m a romantic, and I believe in this fairy tale. In some ways believing in fairy tales is an advantage. But it still failed. I did everything I could and it still failed.” Making a marriage work, she says, is “not like the movies.”

She’s quoting herself, of course — one of her recent hits is “Not Like the Movies” — but what remains to be seen at the end of this all-smiles Katython is what she’ll do with the resulting emotions. Can she turn this real human experience into a powerhouse set of songs on par with Adele’s “21”? Or will her third act merely continue the shtick at the end of this film, with Perry in a candy suit spraying the crowd with a whipped-cream gun?

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