SXSW Film Festival Day 3: The Darker Side of Coco

It’s Day 3 of SXSW and I’ve already spent more time waiting in line than actually watching movies. Just a normal part of the SXSW film experience and the inspiration for a rather funny pre-movie short that I’ve enjoyed seeing multiples times now, about a guy and girl who meet in line and strike up a conversation. By the end they’re married, have kids, and watch as they go off to college… all while waiting in SXSW movie line. I have to say that doesn’t feel like much of an exaggeration. It gets a very cathartic laugh from the audience every time.

The South By schedule this year is very heavy on documentaries, which I don’t mind at all. Today started with the world premiere of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop. In recent pop culture history, the late night debacle of Conan O’Brien verus Jay Leno garnered more of a reaction from my peers than most political issues do. But in the grand scheme of things, a television time slot is not something I see as something worth gathering the masses over. There were actually protests and demonstrations over this which I hadn’t realized that until the opening of this documentary. It is really kind of mind blowing.

“I personally have trouble watching it because it’s a time in my life that I don’t like to go back to” said Conan about the doc. He “reluctantly attended” today’s premiere or so was the word on the street.

Having attended Conan’s “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour” when it made a stop in Austin last May, I had some idea of the tone this doc would take but was honestly hoping I had gotten the wrong impression. This is a much darker “Coco” than we are used to seeing. Conan says he spent a great deal of time being angry over what happened with NBC and, as the film chronicles his time on tour, it’s basically ninety minutes of “angry Conan”.

He snaps at his writers and staff, spends a great deal of time harping over seemingly insignificant details during the show’s preparation and then doesn’t seem to have that good of a time on his 32-city tour. This is not to say that there aren’t any normal Conan O’Brien moments. Yes, he does the string dance and he goes off on hilarious tangents (the funniest being during a pre-tour meeting where he insists everyone talk into a “banana phone” if they want a turn to talk) but just when you think it’s okay to stop worrying the “mean Conan” comes back.

There’s a scene where Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock visits him backstage and Conan starts to poke fun at him, which seems really funny at first, because we all love Kenneth, right? But then Conan doesn’t stop, he keeps going and going and it starts to feel like a bully on a playground. I can’t even tell you how strange it was to feel the mood in the audience change. Obviously no one wanted to think Conan was being a jerk, but he was. And it was uncomfortable.

In an interview with the New York Times, the director, Rodman Flender (who was a classmate of Conan’s at Harvard), said that he told Conan before they began filming “I don’t want this to be U2’s Rattle and Hum. I don’t want to deify you. I want this to be honest”.

Honest it is. And I can honestly say that I would have been fine had I not seen this side of everyone’s favorite red-head.

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