The first thing to know about Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is that – though the subject matter is alluded to – Conan never really comes clean about the dirt that happened to him when NBC ousted him from The Tonight Show and brought Jay Leno back. Instead, Rodman Flender’s documentary is about O’Brien creating and performing the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.” The film lives up to the title – Conan is a ball of energy throughout, going from date to date and engaging with his fans. Our review of the Blu-ray of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop follows after the jump.
The documentary starts with Conan and his team coming up with the idea for the tour, and announcing it on Twitter after some brief comments about The Tonight Show fiasco. The shows start selling out quickly, and then Conan realizes he has to actually come up with material for the damn thing. Interested in playing music as much as comedy, it shows him hiring back-up singers, and then hitting the road. Here also is as much as O’Brien will say about the situation with NBC, and how he’s hurt and pissed off at how he was treated.
But once he this the road, it’s about the grind. The grind of getting on buses and planes and talking to people backstage. The grind of getting asked to do more at an event than he originally thought he was supposed to. The grind of bitching to his assistant Sona Movesesian – who he treats with some mock insults but is shown to be relatively nice to – and the writers, who he likes to punch for whatever reason.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Conan swear, then this documentary is for you. O’Brien is uncensored, and – when not under the spotlight – shows a side of himself that seems slightly removed from the talk show host. That side comes across as a tightly wound as O’Brien both loves and hates his incessant need to keep working and going. Some nights are better than others – probably the meanest thing is that O’Brien seems annoyed at the Coquettes (his back-up singers) for having so many family members. There also are brief celebrity cameos with Jon Hamm, Jack McBrayer, Jim Carrey, Jack White and Nick Offerman all stopping by or participating in his shows.
As a whole, the documentary is compelling and funny, and that’s enough. O’Brien is amusing, but it’s hard to tell how much is behind the curtain, and how much of Conan O’Brien, performer is Conan O’Brien, person. Likely they are very close, but you can see him being “on” just in talking to people. Perhaps that’s symptomatic of being a talk show host for twenty years. Flender finds his narrative drive, which is that O’Brien is a workaholic and follows it through the tour as even events where O’Brien should be near passing out he rallies on. The show flirts with suggesting his voice might be an issue (which I believe was a plot point in Madonna: Truth or Dare), but there is no great internal drama to the show, and that’s to the benefit of the movie. O’Brien is the whole show, and though he does peel the curtain back some on his nature and his work habits, the documentary is more engaging for having funny incidents than penetrating insights. O’Brien obviously has some demons and he’s obviously not happy with what happened to him, but most of that is kept bottled up. That’s likely the man, who sees no value in airing his frustrations more than they’ve already been put out there.
Magnolia’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 master audio. The transfer starts looking grainy and not great until they hit the road– it’s as if Flender didn’t know he was going to make it into a documentary until the tour started (though that could be an aesthetic decision), but once they’re going from state to state, the image quality improves dramatically. The sound is surround, but it’s a documentary. The film comes with a commentary by director Rodman Flender, Conan O’Brien, Andy Richter, Conan’s head writer Mike Sweeney and Conan’s assistant Sona Movsesian. O’Brien is the main contributor to the track, and there are jokes throughout. Also included are ten additional scenes (42 min.) that are okay, but unneeded, an interview with Conan (14 min.) where he is incredibly flirtatious and “on” and interview outtakes (4min.). Also included are bonus trailers.