Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Can't Stop the Funny

If you were to ask me what genre of film I was least likely to attend in the theaters, my first response would likely be animated film. I typically skip these theatrical releases for a number of varying reasons,  but ultimately coming down to their being geared towards children (annoying parents bringing their kids who won't shut up during the film along for the ride doesn't help either). For that reason I eventually saw Toy Story, The Incredibles, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon and Up only on DVD and have completely missed supposed gems Toy Story 2 & 3, Wall-E, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, It's almost tragic how little credit I give animated features, considering that one of my favorite times at the movies came when my parents took my sister and I to see Beauty and the Beast, possibly the best Disney film of all time. This is however distracting from the point I'm trying to make. It is in fact not animated films that I most avoid during their big money moments, but another genre that very few of the average movie-going audience have actually shown any interest in: the documentary. While most such films seek to expose hidden or under-reported truths to their audiences (such as the last two Academy Award winners, Inside Job and The Cove), others appear to be pure entertainment, a behind-the-scenes look at a subject that diehard fans can't get enough of. That's where Conan O'Brien Can't Stop comes in. Fans of the former Tonight Show and Late Night talk show host have their chance to get a private look at Team Coco with the release of this newest documentary by filmmaker Rodman Flender.

He's actually signing these posters "La Bamba"
Following Conan O'Brien in the months since his final night hosting The Tonight Show, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop focuses on his famous Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour, the name based on NBC's stipulation to O'Brien leaving The Tonight Show that he not be allowed on television for several months. Thus the comedy/musical tour was born, running for two months and selling out nearly every venue less than an hour after tickets had become available. Beginning in Eugene, Oregon and touring thirty cities around the United States and Canada, Conan embarks on a journey he's never before undertaken and creates a lot of laughs along the way.

"Conan, can you hear me?"
The laughs are definitely a big part of why I liked this movie. While I wouldn't consider myself for the most part a big fan of Conan's work, I'm familiar enough and amused enough by it to get into his special brand of irreverent and self-deprecating humor, not to mention his ability to get his audience in on the act. It's difficult to believe a personality like his spent so many years behind the scenes as a writer on Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, so strongly does his personality lend itself to his comedy. At numerous moments through the course of the film, a quick joke by Conan or perhaps one of his crew will cause you to miss many seconds of the film because you're bowled over with laughter. If you're a fan of his work, it won't be difficult to get sucked in.

Don't worry; there are no Black Swan-esque mirror scenes here
Unfortunately, there is also a disconnect as to what the actual story behind Can't Stop is. The narrative follows Conan between cities, but with few exceptions, each stop basically shows scenes from the show, followed by the star meeting fans and fellow celebrities afterwards, followed by him complaining about the post-show meetings draining his energy. This is true just about everywhere, but he then seems to renege on these complaints when he uses the days off on his schedule to make special appearances elsewhere, before going right back to the complaining. It gets old a little quickly, even when he's cracking jokes about the topic to the camera.

What the camera doesn't capture is that he really IS rocking out with his cock out
And that's the major problem with this film. Most documentaries have interview segments but otherwise sit in the background allowing the subject of their study to be themselves. Conan O'Brien, however, doesn't follow that script. While there are a few scenes early on where he talks about his anger at NBC and recounts the way his Tonight Show job ended and a few appearances with his children, Conan never appears to be "off", with his trademark comedic persona firmly intact. On one hand, this is never a disappointment as he manages to set them up and knock them down at once with unexpected humor at every turn. On the flip side, it also doesn't provide any addition to his public identity, and the result is Conan as you pretty much expected him. There are no personal revelations, no surprises; it's the same Conan you've been familiar with that makes his big screen debut, not an unknown element. Finally, no effort is shown to look at the tour and bad blood between Conan and his former bosses from the perspective of NBC, damaging another documentary staple of being fair and unbiased. It secures this film's objective of being a film for and by Team Coco fans, but one can't help but question why it needed to be that way.

O'Brien struggles to make any more a mockery of "La Bamba" than he already has
If you're a fan of the TV host and his shows, however, these are mere minor quibbles. You're going to see this film regardless, and even if I said I hated Conan O'Brien Can't Stop it would have no impact on your decision to spend your money in this method. Fortunately, that's not the case, and you won't be wasting your hard-earned cash. While not remotely close to my favorite film this year, this pseudo-doc entertained me with its wry snarkiness and witty personality. I found myself laughing and smiling on a near-continual basis, and while some effort could have been made to turn this into more than just a fan film, its topic of discussion ensures that the film remains flavorful despite its empty calories, making it a true popcorn flick.

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