Making a serious documentary about aggressively over-the-top pop star Katy Perry might seem a bit like trying to grab hold of a cloud. Yet, directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz manage to balance the outlandish with the painfully personal in "Katy Perry: Part of Me," a 3-D concert film/biography hybrid.
Cutforth and Lipsitz have been here before, with last year's similarly positioned "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never." In that film, as in this briskly paced outing, the goal is twofold: Sate the rabid fan base with beautifully photographed concert footage, and fashion a mythic narrative as a white-hot career continues its ascension.
"Part of Me" tags along on Perry's 2011 international arena tour, doggedly following her across the country and around the world. It's an eye-opening account of the toll maintaining such a grueling pace exacts not only on the star of the show, but her support staff as well.
Intercut with the gaudy, flashy set pieces from her "California Dreams" tour - the 3-D technology is put to good use here, immersing viewers in bubbles, feathers and foam - are interviews with the pop star, Perry's family and friends, and her early defenders, like producer Glen Ballard and music publicist Angelica Cob-Baehler. Across the board, Perry is hailed as a hard-working iconoclast, willing to put in the hours, if occasionally a bit naive about the outcome.
To Perry's credit, she allows the filmmakers several revealing peeks behind the cotton-candy facade, including a heartbreaking sequence late in the film as her high-profile marriage to comedian Russell Brand collapses. Her concerned assistant and manager looking on, Perry is crumpled up, wracked with sobs and worlds away from the confident, bubbly sexpot she portrays onstage. It's a humanizing moment for a performer often dismissed as little more than a living cartoon.
"Katy Perry: Part of Me" presents a familiar trajectory, and often tips over into hagiography, but there's a sympathetic person at its core. Given the generally hollow, cynical nature of the music industry, evoking genuine pathos is the film's most impressive special effect.