Miss Americana (2020)

“I became the person who everyone wanted me to be.”

At the ripe old age of 30, Taylor Swift has already blossomed into one of the most successful recording artists of all-time, and is unquestionably her generation’s brightest music star. You know her songs, have followed her love life, and I expect more than a few people even know the names of her cats. But that’s mostly all surface level material, which makes the introduction put forth by Miss Americana all the more mesmerizing. A grown woman reads a journal entry she penned as a 13-year-old, reflecting on her past and how hard work helped make her ambitions into a dreamy reality. This is America’s singer-songwriter sweetheart through her own words. That’s just her way.

So much of Miss Americana feels like a personal essay written by someone with an ear for the right words sung in the right melody. It’s like a bugged confessional booth where one of the world’s most recognizable stars discloses her secrets and her feelings directly to the camera, and we’re the ones eagerly listening in from the safety of our couch while it streams through Netflix’s worldwide platform. I think that’s an intentional choice on behalf of director Lana Wilson and her crew, giving credence to and explaining the tabloid and paparazzi driven frenzy surrounding a phenom who just wants to be seen and heard as an average person as well. It’s easy to forget that Taylor Swift – or any celebrity for that matter – is made up of flesh and bones just as we are. And it’s unfair such individuals can’t have it both ways.

The film does have a narrative in mind, although it fluctuates too much between segments to feel as cohesive and tonally committed as Swift’s latest album Lover. She deals with over-saturation in the music marketplace as well as rejection. She matures and opts for a little more pop and a little less country. She goes to court, falls in and out of love multiple times, and is lambasted by media outlets looking for a sour story without first talking to the main source. It’s no wonder so many famous artists go on benders or take turns so tight that they fall off the rails. And it’s incredible that Taylor Swift did neither. Besides LeBron James, I can’t think of another figurehead from the same generation who’s soaked up the same amount of spotlight whilst being able to deliver this many hits and the absorb way more punches. What a strong, soft, determined spirit she must house inside her soul.

Miss Americana is, quite literally, a film about determination driven by the thirst for validation. About the pursuit of greatness and how its leading lady feels that both in the recording studio and up on stage in front of thousands of people every single night. That’s what the documentary is most concerned with, and while I appreciate the third-act turn towards Swift’s political engagement, I almost wish that it had a more distilled, inward focus. So while those scenes explain and extrapolate on her creative process, the movie is at its most interesting when we’re granted a privy peak behind stage and closed curtains. In quality those moments, Miss Americana is an excellent, didactic documentary. And I think it might have struck a stronger, more personal chord had it chosen to be a bit less selfless and a little more myopic. A smaller lens would have better suited this microscopic study.

“I wanna work really hard while society is still tolerating me being successful.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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