Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

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Conan O’Brien is shown giving it his all on stage in front of an adoring audience.  This seems like a man in his element doing what he was born to do.  O’Brien is loving every single second of it and everything looks normal for anyone that has seen the man on TV for 15+ years.   Then he steps off stage, alone and the façade drops.  All there is right at that moment is stillness and a feeling that everything is not as good as it seems with him.  This moment of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop shows that, for people like me that grew up with the goofy/harmless humor of O’Brien, we were going to see him in a totally different light.

While this movie is considered a tour documentary, it is much more than that.  I would consider it to be a character study of a man at the crossroads of his professional life who decided to put on a show to save his sanity and give a message to all that done him wrong that they can’t beat him down.

His Late Night show in the '90s, along with the earlier seasons of The Simpsons are the two biggest contributors to my sense of humor.  O'Brien always seemed so happy and content in the world, so it was really jarring for me to see an unkempt man with wild hair barely holding in his rage at the beginning of the film.

For those that don’t know (and read the book The War for Late Night by Bill Carter for more details), Conan was finally given his dream job of the Tonight Show only to see it ripped cruelly away from him a scant seven months later.  A very public and nasty battle took place between Jay Leno, Conan and NBC which ended in Jay Leno getting The Tonight Show back and Conan being unemployed with a hefty payout while being legally forbidden from starting a new TV show for six months.

Conan, who was always a positive, happy-go-lucky person was utterly destroyed by this whole ordeal as only a person could be after getting their dreams taken away so unjustly.  In very candid interviews, Conan admits to barely being able to contain all the anger he feels and he knows he takes it out on innocent people in his life.  Taking out his anger he does and the film does not pull any punches with showing the dark side of O’Brien.  While many celebrities would want to censor this movie, O’Brien apparently had no problem letting the world see him at his lowest, warts and all.

During the course of the film he verbally abuses many staff members, snaps at his wife at one point and jokes at an old friend's expense.  The scene with ex-staff member and current 30 Rock actor Jack McBrayer was unsettling by its vile.  Anyone that has seen McBrayer on 30 Rock knows he has a heavy southern accent and the second he shows up in O’Brien’s room, he is peppered with hick jokes and funny accent sounds.  This could be the good-natured ribbing between old friends who are comedians but no one is laughing in the room and as O’Brien is doing it, there was no humor behind his eyes.  It is clearer in this moment than any other point of the movie that he was working through some deep shit and the tour itself did not rid O’Brien of his demons in the least.

The occasional irritability and bad mood would have been seen as normal for a person working as much and as hard as O’Brien did for the tour but the film, in my opinion, shows that Conan was not having much fun at all.  In interviews throughout the film he mentions that the only time he is happy is when he is onstage and that once the show is over, he remembers all and is unhappy or left with the feeling of helplessness.  Although he repeatedly said he loved being on stage again,  I don’t know how happy the tour truly made him.

In the interviews when he is stating it makes him happy the words come out hollow, almost like he is willing it to be true.  Much like a little kid who wants a toy, gets a toy and the doesn’t like the toy and then can’t allow himself to except that face, Conan can not come to the conclusion that this tour and being in front of the audience isn’t healing all his wounds.  He wants to be happy; he tries to be happy but ultimately is going through the motions. Conan has a very distinctive laugh and you could always tell when something really amused him on his show and unfortunately that laugh is almost non-existent in this film.

Even when he jokes with his staff, he seems to be doing it not because it gives him joy but because that is always what he did.   Even though he is miserable, he thought he had to be “on” all the time and after awhile that made him even more miserable.  The movie captures the sick compulsion that Conan has to always make people laugh and enjoy themselves, even if it is at his own expense.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop does not show any negotiations with TBS and some people might think the film suffers because of it.  I believe that was the next part of his journey and it had no part in his slow climb out of the black hole he found himself in that this movie showcases.

But he's back on television now.  I think what Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop leaves you with is the question whether Conan truly found his way back to happiness with his new show, or is he just putting on the best performance of his career?

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop is in limited release starting June 24th.   AT&T U-Verse users can also watch the film on demand.

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Posted by Ryan

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