This week, you can see a film that buries its main character's motivations in scenes of decadence from the big city. The movie is a tale about class divides, and the mix of resentment and envy between the one-percent and the lesser ninety-nine. There is lots of champagne, and Jay-Z makes a behind-the-scenes cameo lording over the music.
And then, after you've wrapped up the frothy and unrevealing "Rihanna 777" documentary, you can walk over to "The Great Gatsby."
"Rihanna 777," which aired in an edited version Monday on Fox, was filmed over a seven-day press junket last fall where the singer chartered a jet to haul a couple hundred people — journalists and contest winners — to club shows in seven countries.
But this film doesn't illuminate much about one of contemporary pop's most successful artists, or even about the famously fraught tour itself. Instead, "777" is a lightweight Rihanna hagiography, with none of the live-wire tension or creative demons that D.A. Pennebaker or Martin Scorsese brought to their own classic music docs "Don't Look Back" and "The Last Waltz."
That's a shame, because the actual "777" tour was a dream vacation for Rihanna fans that quickly went south. For a more skeptical pop-documentary, that would have been a gold mine for material.
Before this film ever aired, firsthand accounts from fans and writers onboard made the week-long "777" tour appear like a "Lord of the Flies"-level fiasco. Their social-media missives begging for water, sleep and bathroom breaks made the luxury jetliner sound more like a stint in Guantanamo than a brush with pop royalty.
In "777," Rihanna appears more like phantom on the plane than a central figure, regally emerging to pour champagne and pass out a diamond to each passenger on the first day, then vanishing into her cabin for the rest of the trip. The highlight of the week was when a frizzy-haired Australian reporter-dude stripped naked and ran down the plane's aisles to the crowd's adoring shrieks.
Finally, the photographers had something worth shooting.
"777" does occasionally acknowledge that the tour was less than scintillant for most onboard who weren't Rihanna. They interview one weary journalist who said "I don't think there's ever been a mutiny on a pop tour before." They accurately treat the Aussie pants-shedding moment as the film's emotional pinnacle, and one fan looked near tears when admitting, "That not sleeping and traveling … I just couldn't."
If evoking the repetition of tour life was the goal, the "777" filmmakers succeed. Scenes move from plane to backstage to concert to backstage to plane with rote precision, and even the concert footage is shot almost entirely from the soundboard — the least interesting vantage point to watch such a lithe star perform.
The only jarring moments come during the live shows, and that's due to the film's sound mixing. Rihanna's live vocals are mixed far, far louder than anything else in the movie, and not in a way that does her voice favors.
No one expected a "Don't Look Back"-worthy revelation here. Rihanna's domestic tragedies have been publicly dissected for years. In the film it's obvious that's she's eager to get back on-message, even as she toys with her personal dramas in her music.
There's something very human in that dynamic. For all the backstage access and the insanity of the "777" situation, a more impartial film could have wrung a real story out of this tour. If Rihanna is actually alone in her cabin feeling totally disconnected from her own chartered party jet, that's really interesting. If Rihanna's fans, fueled by free champagne and red-eyed delirium, are actually starting to turn on her midflight, that's a movie worth seeing.
But as it is, "777" withholds pretty much everything. That approach might preserve Rihanna's mercurial image, but it doesn't make for a good movie at all.
Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times