Movie review: 'Part of Me' captures the sugary pop and backstage tears on Katy Perry's California Dreams Tour

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For drama, the Justin Bieber 3-D road diary "Never Say Never" had the teen star getting a sore throat before the big Madison Square Garden gig. And somehow it still managed to be watchable.

Katy Perry, a singer with a candy-coated pop facade, has much a much deeper storyline in "Katy Perry: Part of Me," a documentary from the same directors opening today, that captures her on a marathon tour in the midst of a marital meltdown. It should have been nothing but marshmallows and lollipops for Ms. Perry, on a victory lap for "Teenage Dream," an album that scored five No. 1 singles, tying Michael Jackson's record with "Bad."

'Katy Perry: Part of Me'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Rating: PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking.

No one, including directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, could have anticipated the heartbreak on the way.

For better or worse, the singer born Kate Hudson had some character-building experiences on her way to the spotlight. Mom and Dad were (and are) traveling Pentecostal ministers, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., who raised their three kids so strictly they weren't even allowed to eat Lucky Charms because, her younger brother David tells us, "luck was of Lucifer."

She grew up with nothing but church music and started performing Christian folk on an acoustic guitar as a teenager. (Yes, haters, she plays an instrument!) She even released a gospel album at 15 in Nashville. Once she got a taste of the devil's music -- via Alanis Morissette -- there was no turning back.

Island Def Jam signed her after she had the guts to knock on star producer Glen Ballard's door. She made an album that never even came out. Then Columbia picked her up and wanted to make her the next Britney Spears. That didn't work. A former Columbia employee tells us that at some point, Columbia didn't want her but didn't want anyone else to get her and make the label look bad. "She has a specific vision in her head," the woman says, "and her vision is a little crazy."

Despite being "damaged goods," she connected with a fourth label, Capitol, that managed to break her risque single "I Kissed a Girl" and push her as "the good girl gone bad."

The next logical plot line would look a little "Fiddler on the Roof," but somehow the Hudsons shrug off their daughter being a sexed-up pop tart. When Keith Hudson comments, it's more on business than moral grounds. "I was a little concerned," he says, "because I thought my ministry after 30 years was over. But we never had a problem at all."

A scene from her stint on the Warped Tour would have been cool, but "Part of Me" skips to February 2011 and the California Dreams Tour, which is designed as Katy in Candyland with costumes Shirley Temple would have died for. After some rough outings in various award shows and TV appearances, the tour would prove that Ms. Perry could sing reasonably well live and work the stage with a genuine warmth, charisma and energy lacking in some young pop divas (hello, Britney).

Dazzling concert footage of hits like "California Gurls," "E.T.," "Firework" and "Last Friday Night," with her younger sister and VIP coordinator Angela making a funny cameo, keeps things popping as they're seamlessly interspersed through the bio and backstage portions. If you opt for the 3-D, you'll have bubbles and foam coming right at you.

Ms. Perry, often looking very plain without her "face" on, is seen rehearsing, working out, managing design details and engaging her fans, including a Make-A-Wish boy. One of the few laugh-out-loud moments comes when one of her handlers quizzes her on her diet:

"What did you have for lunch?" "Chick-Fil-A."

"What did you have for dinner last night?" "Taco Bell."

"What are you eating now?" "Pizza."

Things get real when it comes to Russell Brand, who makes a brief strained appearance. She married the British comedian a few months before the tour, in October 2010, and she was determined to make the fairy tale work, even if it meant going far out of her way to visit. As the tour wears on, the distance grows between them, and she gets more and more despondent. The talk among her people is that Mr. Brand should be making more of an effort to see her, "but he's not." (Perhaps he'll get to explain in his own feature some day, but, as it is, he's seeming like a fool for letting this one get away.)

It's hard to believe the cameras are rolling in Brazil, two months before the divorce filing, when the biggest crowd of the tour is waiting and a tearful Ms. Perry may or may not be able to get off the couch, put on the peppermint pinwheel dress and perform.

The scene that follows is a stunning glimpse of what makes an artist tick.

Katy Perry may not be Adele (who makes a brief testimonial, along with Rihanna and Jessie J), and she hardly commands that kind of respect, but as a friend says, she has a way of "[making] people feel happy."

And if you thought she was a lightweight, "Part of Me" will make you think again.


Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.


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