Movies

Taylor Swift Helps Kick Off Sundance With ‘Miss Americana’

There’s going to be a day when Taylor Swift will make a great documentary subject. Some of the seeds are already sprinkled throughout Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana (which just premiered on opening night at the Sundance Film Festival and will be on Netflix on January 31st). But, as Taylor Swift keeps reminding us over the course of this film, she’s still only 29. (And she’s at that stage where she thinks 29 is “old”; yes, for all of us who have been 29 before, we all thought that.) And I’ll concede this is probably the best documentary that could be made about Taylor Swift at this point in her life and career — or, at least, that Swift and her team would ever let be made about her.

But as Swift approaches 30, she’s just, admittedly, starting to figure herself out, as a lot of us do at that age. (At times, this comes off like a college freshman coming home to tell his or her parents, “There is no God, Mom.”) Swift even mentions that people have told her famous people stay who they are at the age they became famous, and that she’s just now starting to break out of that. But that’s also why I’m much more interested in a self-reflective film about Swift being made in the future. A lot of this film sill feels like public relations.

Now, there are some interesting moments. After what seemed like endless montages of Swift winning awards, it finally gets to the infamous Kanye West moment at the MTV Music Awards. And what Swift had to say about is interesting — how that moment was a defining moment in her career, whether she liked it or not. Plus, she’s had a full 10 years now to think about it. And I’m sure she’s thought about it a lot. I wish the film had stayed a little longer on this subject, but it quickly moves on to more of Taylor Swift’s triumphs. (The movie is frustrating throughout. Every time I was about to give up, something interesting would happen. But it would never stay on that subject quite long enough, then it would move on to Swift winning more awards.)

When Swift talks about having an eating disorder and how she’s coped with that, again, we see glimpses into a pretty open and honest Taylor Swift. But it’s almost like she had some sort of deal in place that anytime something actually engaging happened, we must cut to some sort of montage of victories.

The most moving part of the film is when Swift discusses the lawsuit filed against her by a disgruntled disc jockey who was fired after Swift accused him of groping her during a photoshoot. I wish the entire documentary was about this incident. Swift is so clear that this is the moment that changed so much for her in her life, how it’s the moment when she decided to start voicing her opinion. And there’s powerful footage of Swift on stage at a concert in Tampa apologizing to every woman who hasn’t been believed. But, again, we move on to the next thing.

The closing moments of the film deal with Swift’s decision to make her first political statement. A lot is made of the Dixie Chicks and what they went through after criticizing then-president George W. Bush. And how growing up in the country music world, she was taught not to voice her political opinion or she might face the same consequences as the Dixie Chicks did. As a business decision, I get it, this isn’t an easy decision, but the footage of Swift and her publicist crafting a social media post endorsing the Democratic candidate for Senate in Tennessee is … kind of rough. On one hand, yes, it’s a good thing she did that. But any footage of anyone agonizing over a tweet or Instagram post, then kind of taking the attitude of, “Well, I did my part,” isn’t going to be the greatest thing. Then there’s a whole segment where she looks shocked that her post didn’t sway an entire statewide election.

Look, it is interesting because we are seeing a sort of origin story of who Swift will be over the next ten years as she’s learning to navigate her newfound propensity to be outspoken politically. But, again, I think the Swift we have ten years from now will make a much more fascinating subject. What we see now feels more like the very beginning of her story. And there’s just not enough here yet at this starting point to sustain a feature-length documentary.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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