Directed by Rodman Flender. 89 minutes. 14A
Before I start gushing away about Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, the fantastically frank and funny bone-massaging documentary about my second favourite ginger (first place being a certain hand-me-down wearer and wizard) and what really happened during his brief fall from late night talk show hosting grace, let me get one obvious and one other, totally embarrassing thing off my chest. I am, and will always be, Team Coco and as a result, may be beyond biased in writing this review. And – Feel free to call me an ignorant twat! – I kinda sorta don’t love documentaries.
Sorry, serious Cinefilles! But after a long day of hard work, I would much rather unwind with some sort of fictionalized version of the truth than a harrowing and or overly agenda-pushing real one. However, every once and a while I fall for some bittersweet human interest piece about an offbeat and or misunderstood public figure and our totally warped perception of them. And I fall hard. (See: One of my favourite flicks of last year, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and more recently, belieb it or not, Never Say Never). Such is definitely the case with Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, a, uh, non-stop guffaw factory with a heart as pure as its subject’s signature red hair.
The film follows the lanky, Tilda Swinton twin of a hyperactive comic on his “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” comedy tour, which was quickly pieced together as response to him getting paid to leave his job hosting the new, Jay Leno-less Tonight Show. You know the highly publicized story (NBC wanted to move Conan’s show to a later time to put Jay’s new, too-early-to-be-late show in its prime slot and when he refused, he was given a high-priced heave-ho and an order to stay off TV, radio and the internet for half a year) and eventual happy ending (Coco landed a new show on TBS). And if not, don’t worry. There’s an awkwardly dated animated sequence that will explain it all to you in detail! No joke.
Even if you saw one of these road shows, which had O’Brien dressing up like a fat NBC exec, rocking a replica of Eddie Murphy’s Raw leather suit and singing a bunch of original songs, you will be surprised by this film and where it takes its wonderfully wacky subject. Although it has the expected over-the-top onstage and offstage gags (he pretends to randomly fire his assistant frequently), it is also tastefully revealing.
Director Rodman Flender gets Conan to admit both the things we were pretty sure we knew (He was really, really pissed off!) and the things that didn’t even cross our minds (He was really happy to spend more time with his family – and then unhappy to have to only see them on Skype). Unlike most of North America, Flender never really takes a side, portraying Conan in both good and bad lights (literally and figuratively – some shots are charmingly unflattering). But he gives the funny man what NBC denied him: a place to speak his peace and move on with his busy life.
One of the highlights of the almost-always hilarious film comes when some Conan’s comic comrades come to visit his L.A. dressing room. Watching the improvisation expert rag on Jack McBrayer (Kenneth on 30 Rock) any and every way he knows how (it culminates with a hillbilly sing-song) as Jon Hamm and his wife look – and laugh – on is not only a treat for TV nerds, but also a testament to his talent and undying passion for comedy. Whether or not the cameras surrounding him are going live to air, Conan acts like they are, forever ready pounce on a punchline and attack it with all his off-the-wall might. It’s just nice to know someone was there to document the hilarity we should have never missed. B+