Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior George Miller Says He Originally Wanted The Music In 'Mad Max: Fury Road' To Only Come From The Doof Warrior Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Stephen King Says Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining' Is "Like A Big, Beautiful Cadillac With No Engine Inside It" Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Review: Coen Brothers' 'Hail, Caesar!' Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, And More Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Naomi Watts Confirmed For David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’ Revival; Tom Sizemore Joins Cast Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video Watch: Quentin Tarantino Talks 5 Movies To Watch Before 'The Hateful Eight' In 7-Minute Video SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big SAG Award Winners: ‘Spotlight’ Wins Best Ensemble, Leonardo DiCaprio, Idris Elba & Brie Larson Also Score Big Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Review: ‘Jane Got A Gun’ Starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton & Ewan McGregor Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Mel Gibson Gave Nate Parker Advice On Making 'The Birth Of A Nation' Paul Schrader Says Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is "A Compendium Of Art House Cliches" Paul Schrader Says Hou Hsiao-Hsien's 'The Assassin' Is "A Compendium Of Art House Cliches" 'Birth Of A Nation' And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival 'Birth Of A Nation' And Beyond: 25 Filmmakers & Actors That Broke Through At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 25 Most Anticipated New TV Shows Of 2016 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Documentaries Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 20 Best Films Of 2015 The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Action Movies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Comedies Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Sci-Fi Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Animated Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More Terry Gilliam Talks The "Simplistic" Films Of Steven Spielberg, Dumbing Down Of Audiences, 'Don Quixote' Start Date & More

SXSW Review: 'Conan O'Brien Can't Stop' A Funny & Moving Portrait Of The Late Night Staple

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist March 15, 2011 at 9:25AM

The maelstrom of controversy, sensationalized media coverage and generally hurt feelings that broke out during the kerfuffle that surrounded the decision to dethrone Conan O'Brien from his position as the host of "The Tonight Show" after seven months (to replace him with Jay Leno… the man he replaced), was something supercharged and grass-roots out-of-control, eclipsing even the late night battle that had David Letterman angrily leaving NBC for greener pastures at CBS. In other words: it was an even bigger deal than the last time NBC fucked up.
3


The maelstrom of controversy, sensationalized media coverage and generally hurt feelings that broke out during the kerfuffle that surrounded the decision to dethrone Conan O'Brien from his position as the host of "The Tonight Show" after seven months (to replace him with Jay Leno… the man he replaced), was something supercharged and grass-roots out-of-control, eclipsing even the late night battle that had David Letterman angrily leaving NBC for greener pastures at CBS. In other words: it was an even bigger deal than the last time NBC fucked up.

And in the aftermath, Conan O'Brien, legally banned from appearing on television for several months, took all the outrage and strong emotions (both good and bad) and funneled them into a traveling live show, which included a bold mix of music and comedy. It's both the live show and the accompanying feelings that take center stage in "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop," an unstoppably hilarious and surprisingly moving documentary.


In a brief recap rendered in cheapo Taiwanese news footage animation, we are told the story of Conan being usurped and replaced, with title cards that explain his idea for a touring comedy show that would span the summer (and ultimately bridge the "Tonight Show" and his TBS gig). We are then thrown into the madcap mind of Conan O'Brien: his compulsion to be applauded and his equally strong compulsion to entertain, the kinks that have to be ironed out for the performances (like finding background dancers and making sure everyone on the staff wants to come out for the on-the-road edition).

It's in these early sequences that the movie establishes itself as both a winning, charming, you'll-miss-stuff-because-you're-still-laughing-too-hard concert documentary and a peek behind Conan's psychological curtain. The movie wouldn't have been much if it had only been one half of this equation, but the two sides of the movie enrich it in profound and unexpected ways. It could have been really funny or really serious and still been good, but combined, it's downright amazing.

The tour and the documentary were launched almost immediately after his painful separation from NBC and the subject still seems very touchy and raw. Conan, addressing the camera, openly talks about the anger and grief that he feels very intensely, towards a job that he worked very hard at. The talk show host comes across as a complicated character indeed, and these asides (which pepper the rest of the film), give it an added dimension of weirdness and sadness. You get the impression that as disappointed as he is in the situation, he's more disappointed in himself.

Of course, the concert footage, which is doled out in large chunks so by the end of the film you feel like you've pretty much seen the whole shebang, is side-splitting in its intensity and hilarity. Even funnier, too, is the behind-the-scenes footage. A particularly jolting sequence has Conan visited by his former "Late Night" costar (and current "30 Rock"-er) Jack McBrayer. Conan belittles him and performs nasty songs about him, all in a thick hayseed southern accent that, in and of itself, may have you busting a gut.

As the movie wears on (but ends before the 90-minute-mark, meaning there isn't a wasted moment), you grasp a fuller psychological understanding of what makes Conan O'Brien tick: his painful insecurities, his driven workaholism (which sometimes borders on dickishness, something he fully acknowledges), and his deeply felt ties to his wife and children. It's a round portrait, one full of contradictions and nooks and crannies of darkness and occasional self-loathing, and it's a story that's beautifully told. Through "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop," you see the man in full, even if it is a little blurry because you've been crying with laughter. [A-]

This article is related to: Review, Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, SXSW Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates