Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop

By combining elements of fellow show-biz docs I’m Still Here and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop manages to fall right between the two quality-wise. It’s certainly not the abomination that Casey Affleck’s Joaquin Phoenix hoax was. But it also doesn’t touch the brilliance of last year’s brilliant Joan Rivers portrait. Why? Because for the most part, it fails to show us the real O’Brien.

Unsurprisingly, the film is funny. It’s impossible to watch Conan perform for 90 minutes and not laugh at least a few times. But beyond the laughs, the film says nothing until its closing moments. It’s a great ending that ultimately ties everything together nicely and gives us a glimpse of what motivates Conan. But its hard to forgive 80 minutes of somewhat entertaining tedium just because a film ends well.

Everyone knows about the Tonight Show debacle in which Conan gave up his show when Jay Leno insisted on reclaiming his old time slot. This film picks up shortly thereafter with Conan legally unable to appear on television. He decides to hit the road for the first time in his career, and it’s a trying few months. He’s still grappling with what happened with NBC, and he’s pushing himself a little too hard for his own good. But it’s also a rewarding few months, as he’s constantly surrounded by adoring fans, and he gets to do his own material the way he wants to.

One objection I had to the film was the way it portrays Conan dealing with fame. When facing a crowd of adoring fans, O’Brien appears to genuinely care. Once his dressing room or limo door is closed, he resents the position he’s in. I’m not trying to condemn the man at all. I’m sure being famous is exhausting at times, and I wouldn’t dare judge someone for venting his or her frustration at that. But I will say I think the film fails at getting to the bottom of anything—of the price of celebrity, of the difficulty of being on the road, of the need to please fans despite one’s personal feelings about them.

Like I said, the ending fixes things slightly, but not entirely. The aforementioned Joan Rivers film does a far better job of portraying the off-camera life and personality of its subject. Rivers showed her vulnerability and flaws much more than Conan. He’s just a smart ass who’s burnt out and a little dejected over what happened to him. Again, there’s nothing wrong with feeling that way, but it doesn’t make for a particularly insightful documentary.

When all is said and done, I think Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop pretty much does exactly what it needs to. It’s an immediately forgettable film, but it will appeal to a certain audience—the folks that don’t mind lining up for hours to see O’Brien perform. I personally find the man entertaining, but I’d hardly call myself a charter member of Team Coco. And that sort of sums up my thoughts on the film as well—entertaining, but nothing to write home about.

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