Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

Rodman Flender

BY Will SloanPublished Jul 7, 2011

Very funny, candid and exhausting, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop has no arc and no editorially imposed "story." It ostensibly follows Conan O'Brien's summer 2010 "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television" tour (mounted, of course, in the wake of a certain timeslot dispute), but it isn't really about the show, per se — we don't see how it evolved over time, nor do we see more than a few comedy or music bits in their entirety.

And while we do see footage of people other than the titular subject (O'Brien staffers like Andy Richter, Jeff Ross and his ever-patient assistant, Sona Movsesian, as well as celebrities like Jim Carrey, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), they're only ever seen in fragments, always in relation to the 400-pound gorilla at the centre of the room.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is an excellent title, indicating the relentless pace and single-mindedness of director Rodman Flender's approach. A flurry of bits and pieces of takes — hardly any single shot lasts longer than 30 seconds before shifting to another scene entirely — the film captures the chaos of a 44-gig tour, the overwhelming pressures of celebrity and, in an impressionistic sort of way, O'Brien himself.

Flender spends time trying to make O'Brien the martyr of the Leno/NBC dispute, and there is nothing in his editing that tells us what he really thinks of him. So, how does O'Brien come across, to me? He seems to have three speeds: earnest (whenever talking about what the tour means to him); relentlessly quippy (most other times, especially in moments of anger, when his jabs at his staff become especially pointed); and self-doubting, if not self-loathing (he spends a lot of time with his head in his hands, with his six-foot-four frame sprawled on a couch). He's also, of course, extremely funny and charismatic, with a more acidic sense of humour than his cheerfully absurdist TV shows would indicate. He's a subject worth spending time with.

After his highly public rejection, he clearly feeds off the validation the consistently sold-out audiences provide him, but he also buckles under the pressure of being "Conan O'Brien" for days on end — two shows a night and a lot of posing for pictures with streams of fans before and after.

For all the temporary charge the tour gives him, O'Brien is still as angry about his firing at the end of the film as in the beginning. I'm not one for hack-y blurbs, but Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is something resembling Don't Look Back meets Stardust Memories.
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