Thursday, May 18, 2017
Here in Chicago, where late winter typically bleeds into early May, it seemed, up until this week, as if the sun had not shined in months, and yet a Katy Perry song – a good one – makes it feel like the sun is always shining anyway, which is extremely, perhaps excessively, pollyannish. But in these dark days for the country where I call home, well, I give zero fucks; I could use some pollyannishness. Indeed, even if some things in this world have only worsened, my life nevertheless got infinitely better a few years back when I came clean on my love for Katy Perry’s sweet, soluble carbohydrate pop. I remember going to a wedding once in those dark ages before I admitted the truth and when “Teenage Dream” thundered across the dance floor I sat there in my chair pretending like it didn’t affect me when, Lord, all I wanted to do was get up and cut a poorly woven rug. I don’t necessarily try and spread the gospel of Katy Perry because I know her sugary confections aren’t for everyone, but I won’t deny my belief.
But my belief is not really tied to any messages she might seek to espouse; my belief is tied to the meaning in her emptiness. There should be no means by which the wholly artificial and entirely pure can possibly, nevertheless pleasingly, intersect and yet Katy Perry’s best songs improbably occupy that exotic, ineffable junction. To give yourself so whole-heartedly to “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is a sin; to listen to it is to be absolved of your sins. And so while I admired Katy for getting #woke, her more recent forays into full-on earnestness, like many of the less than stellar selections on “Prism” and her Olympic anthem “Rise”, which was so serious and such a slog when it should have been Christ the Redeemer decorated in a feathery headdress, tank top and leggings, its arms outstretched to gather up a tray of raspberry margaritas, have left me underwhelmed. Perhaps the only true dose of Katy earnestness that gets me is “Firework.” And I confess I only learned to appreciate it because of its double shot of transcendent cinematic application.
It was implemented at a couple key points in Jacques Audiard’s uber-dark yet strangely hopeful “Rust and Bone” (2012) which chronicled Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a seaquarium trainer who loses her legs when the killer whale under her tutelage in a show goes rogue/rises up (depending on your viewpoint). Plunged into depression, she connects with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), weighed down by his own problems that he tries to unburden with bare knuckle brawls for cash. It’s a movie in which people who have lost so much find ways of getting it back – it as in the corporeality of life, feeling, touching, loving, fucking, fighting, swimming, dancing, feeling you in you, or something like that. It is not easy; it is a tormenting, depressing slog. “Rust and Bone” spends a lot of time amidst the torment and depression. There is not always light at the end of the tunnel. Still, that doesn’t mean light will not eventually emerge, which it does, and if the first time “Firework” is served up, as Stéphanie goes through the exuberant motions of her killer whale show, the song feels like mere fruit extract, by the time it re-emerges in service of Stéphanie getting her groove back, it plays like a hymn of exultation.
“Firework” also turned up, perhaps more famously, in “The Interview” where Seth Rogen and James Franco played, respectively, frazzled TV producer Aaron Rapaport and dingbat talk show host Dave Skylark who, for reasons too pointless to explain, are recruited to assassinate North Korea boy wonder Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). This Kim Jong-un, however, has a weak spot, a supposed weak spot, shall we say, and it is Katy Perry. Indeed, when Dave discovers Kim Jong-un’s love of Katy Perry, the dictatorial boy wonder comes clean, cheerful to be free of this secretive burden, joyous to publicly indulge his inner-Katy Cat. But later, when confessing to his requisite daddy issues, bringing him to tears, he pointedly turns his back on Katy Perry when Dave tries to lead the dictatorial boy wonder in a “Firework” sing-along, a moment that literally triggers the supreme leader’s downfall, culminating in an explosion aboard a helicopter set to, that’s right, “Firework.” Alas, it is merely a cover of “Firework” because at this point, denying who he really is, Jong-un does not deserve the real thing.
Deciding which film best employs “Firework” ain’t easy. “Rust and Bone” might ultimately prove itself a better movie than “The Interview”, but while “Firework” is no doubt integral to “Rust and Bone”, the song is, in a way, everything to “The Interview.” Kim Jong-un, frankly, is not so much the antagonist of “The Interview” as the reflective character to Dave Sklylark, the character against which Dave is made to measure himself, and while Kim Jong-un ultimately turns his back on “Firework”, Dave does not, the emblem, truly as much as anything, that opening ourselves up to Katy Perry, yes indeed, might well be the best hope we have left to save this world from itself.