SXSW Review: Conan O'Brien Can't Stop Reveals A Darker Side Of The Funnyman

By Matt Patches 2011-03-14 13:38:17discussion comments
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A behind-the-scenes look at Conan O'Brien's cross-country live tour may sounds like a hidden present under the Christmas tree for the late night renegade's devout fans. "Conan: Raw and Uncut?" Few propositions sound funnier.

And it is. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop delivers serious laughs as Conan jumps from city to city, riffing along the way. But director Rodman Fletcher surpasses expectations of the comedian's documentary by digging deeper into the mind of his subject. Fletcher balances the laughs with Conan's personal struggles and on-edge behavior during the tour, turning Can't Stop into a surprisingly complex look that should challenge an audiences' perception of the celebrity.

Conan wasn't a happy camper in the wake of his expulsion from NBC's The Tonight Show, but the personality convinces us in Can't Stop that this wasn't simply a grudge against one or two people. The "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour grew from Conan's instinctual thirst to perform and turn his disappointment into a revitalizing creative endeavor. Imagine Celebrity Rehab with a 30-city tour instead of group therapy.

Conan is an inherently funny human being, wisecracking and taking pot shots at his well-natured writing staff and crew throughout the tour (whether they like it or not). The title says it all: he can't stop -- and it's to his own dismay. Over the course of his journey, Conan wears thin and bounces from the chipper host we know to an exhausted, aggravated puppet. In one scene, a back up dancer on the tour brings her extended family to meet Conan, who keeps a smile and poses for photos like any other post-show ceremony. After the encounter, he slips back to his green room and explodes: why should he have to cater to all these people when he just put on a show for the last two hours? The last thing Conan wants to do after a show is sign your breasts with a Sharpie.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop really is raw and uncut, but a raunchy concert film this is not. Like Joaquin Phoenix's recent I'm Still Here, the film is a close examination of the world of celebrity, the toll it takes on the performers and the humanity behind people idolized by the general public. Depending on how strong your love is for Team Coco, you'll either find Can't Stop to be a captivating (and still funny) portrait of Conan emotional roller coaster ride or an uncomfortable window into a comedic hero's stream of consciousness.
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