DVD ReviewsRating: 4 of 5 yaps
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
In the midst of last year’s “Tonight Show” fiasco, Conan O’Brien wore his emotions so plainly on his sleeve that it’s hard to believe there is a side to him we didn’t see.
“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” peels back even more layers of his clown makeup, revealing warts and all. It’s an intimate portrait brimming with juicy backstage drama, directed by Rodman Flender in a sensitive, artful, non- “Access Hollywood” fashion.
Flender follows O’Brien on his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour” across the U.S. and Canada, which began shortly after he severed ties with NBC for bumping his “Tonight Show” time slot to make room for Jay Leno.
Despite O’Brien’s emotionally raw response to this in the documentary, the film is not about his anger. As the title suggests, it’s about his addiction to comedy.
To comics like O’Brien, comedy is a dead serious business — a fact that this film conveys more poignantly than any other I’ve seen. Watch closely when O’Brien waits backstage for his turn at a Harvard reunion talent show. In that quiet, tender moment, as O’Brien’s knees shake nervously, you’ll realize that, like all comedians, he is still an anxious, giddy kid waiting for a chance to prove himself and make people laugh.
O’Brien lives for laughs. His fierce devotion to entertaining people is often endearing and at times disturbing, such as when he goes a little too far in teasing actor Jack McBrayer (“30 Rock’s” Kenneth Parcell) about his rustic background.
This line-crossing behavior seems to stem from O’Brien’s constant stress, and Flender catches the comedian at his most vulnerable. The camera bores directly into O’Brien’s head, which is bruised by the pressure of success. His sobered offstage appearance and pale Irish complexion is all the more startling when filmed in such raw, natural light. Flender doesn’t hold back, closing in on O’Brien’s scars and wrinkles and sticking with him during the tense backstage moments, no matter how uncomfortable and unflattering they are for O’Brien.
This film evokes a certain voyeuristic thrill, as it brings a larger-than-life persona down to a human level, showing us his personal struggles behind the curtain — the ones not unlike our own. “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” provides a fly-on-the-wall experience that is at once breezy, fun, and profound.
The DVD, due Tuesday, September 13, is loaded with special features as funny and insightful as the film itself. Boasting interviews, outtakes, additional scenes and an audio commentary, it is a must-have treat for comedy junkies and film lovers, period.