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Conan O'Brien Can't Stop

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Is Team Coco ready for this? Their fearless leader is in uncomfortably revealing form in Rodman Flender's up-close-and-personal documentary about the late night host's Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. The behind-the-scenes story is now as legendary as the Walker, Texas Ranger lever or the Masturbating Bear: After hosting the Jay Leno--vacated Tonight Show for a grand total of seven months---and with animosity rising on all sides due to low ratings and proposed schedule shifts---Conan was bought out for a tidy sum by NBC. The comic's termination contract disallowed him from appearing on TV for half a year, so he conceived of a 32-city music-and-comedy revue and took to Twitter, where his 140-character bursts gained him a several-million-strong following.

Flender, a Roger Corman--trained multihyphenate, was brought on to document the tour from rehearsal to execution. Barring an additional camera or two during the performances themselves, he's the whole crew, and the fly-on-the-wall approach allows for a heightened sense of intimacy with O'Brien and his team as they hash out routines and deal with life on the road. It's an equally insightful and excruciating journey, with our quip-ready protagonist perpetually caught between two modes: eager-to-please caffeinated and near-breakdown frustrated. He never succumbs to either extreme, but the threat of going too far in one direction or another, especially when dealing with his alternately bemused and vexed personal assistant, is constant. The uncertainty keeps us watching. Conan's passion---some would say compulsion---for performing keeps him sane. But there are moments during the film (several times the comic lies deflated on a couch postperformance) when he seems close to losing that creative spark, or at least recognizes that it will abandon him at some point down the road. Until then, he has to keep moving, and we, like any good audience, can't stop watching.

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Written by Keith Uhlich
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