It's a good thing the makers of "Katy Perry: Part of Me" aren't in politics. They'd probably steal the election.
"Part of Me" and its forerunner, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," are mesmerizing pieces of pop propaganda. Both 3-D concert films give a reality TV-style portrait of a young star, scrubbed clean, at the pinnacle of pop: touring sold-out arenas while making Herculean sacrifices, always finding time for their fans and goofing around with their entourages of stylists and assistants.
They're unabashedly commercial movies made about unabashedly commercial enterprises. And yet they're kind of fascinating.
That's because "Part of Me" is as good a document you're likely to find of modern pop stardom: how it's packaged, how it's sold and what kind of power it holds over screaming 'tween girls.
The film, directed by reality show veterans Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz (the pair produced "Never Say Never," as well as shows like "Top Chef" and "Project Runway"), follows Perry's 2011 California Dreams world tour. The 124-concert extravaganza came on the heels of her hit album "Teenage Dream," the only album to chart five No. 1 hits for a female performer.
A large chunk of the film is made up of 3-D footage of the concerts (songs like "Firework" and "California Gurls") performed on candy-colored stages that look like Willy Wonka threw up on. (All of the footage was shot by other filmmakers and later assembled by Cutforth and Lipsitz, who came aboard only to stitch the film together in editing.)
But much of the documentary is spent telling "Katy's story," and certainly, the blue-haired, dinner-plate eyed 27-year-old makes for a compelling character. Raised by traveling Pentecostal ministers, Perry first tried Christian songwriting as a 13-year-old and later, in Los Angeles, went through various incarnations before emerging as a star with "I Kissed a Girl."
As artificial as much of the apparatus surrounding Perry may be, none of it works without her charisma at the center. That comes through in "Part of Me," as does her intense drive to succeed after early failures. Many of those who helped along the way are here to sing her praises and take credit for their foresight of her talent, like her slick manager Bradford Cobb.
"Part of Me," though, doesn't succeed as a full picture of Perry. A less PG-friendly, more complicated version of the star surely exists off-screen. The film often feels like a tease, showing only, well, part of Perry.
The "money shot" of the film is when cameras catch Perry crying in her dressing room following her split from husband Russell Brand (who's seen fleetingly backstage).
It's an honest moment. The finest shot of "Part of Me" is Perry seconds before she goes on stage that night in Sao Paulo, Brazil, bent over sobbing and then seconds later — with the professionalism of a true performer — papering over the heartbreak with a broad smile while chants for "Kay-Tee!" roar and the peppermint-colored wheels on her dress start to spin.
The moment would mean more if it was accompanied by more context of Perry's emotional life, rather than served up as evidence of her humility. But that's the sleight of hand of "Part of Me," which can even use genuine sorrow to feign depth.
Watching "Part of Me" through aqua- and pink-colored 3-D glasses in a crowd of girls singing along, Perry's songs don't feel vapid but rather like anthems of self-empowerment. The pop experience — exuberant, superficial, fun, crass — could hardly be mirrored better.
"Katy Perry: Part of Me," a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking. Running time: 97 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.