Here’s What Critics Are Saying About Taylor Swift’s Revealing (But Frothy) Netflix Doco
"Here is a character study authored by the character who’s being studied, a carefully controlled continuation of a story we have been following now for years."
Miss Americana has had something of a tortured journey to our small screens.
The film was first announced not with a trailer, or a poster, or secret hints, or even a humble press release. Instead, the news broke in the form of a now iconic statement by Taylor Swift, alleging that Scooter Braun had seized control of her back catalogue and was working to halt the release of the documentary about her life.
So yes, a painful announcement — but also a strangely fitting one. After all, Miss Americana is a documentary about Swift surmounting some of the biggest obstacles of her career; the sudden media focus on her politics;and her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. The film is a story about a triumph, and the film is, in its own small way, something of a triumph too.
That’s what most of the reviews say, anyway. Since premiering at the Sundance film festival, Miss Americana has received mixed to positive critical notices, with special attention devoted to its warmth and life.
Let’s dive in.
Miss Americana Is About How Much It Sucks To Be Taylor Swift (Sometimes)
Many of the reviews identify Miss Americana‘s honesty as one of its core strengths. The film is open about the trials and tribulations that the singer has faced — not just in terms of her public image, but in terms of the up and down critical reception that her records have received.
“One of the film’s most revealing vignettes takes place in late 2017, when Swift learns that 1989’s divisive follow-up, Reputation, has failed to earn a single nomination in any of the Grammys’ major categories,” writes Judy Berman in a mostly positive review for Time.
Indeed, the film’s main narrative arc concerns Swift’s slow journey to total political honesty. Key to that transformation is the moment that she came out and supported two Democrats in the 2018 election, captured in Miss Americana in wrenching close-up. “To the public, her endorsement came as a surprise,” writes Anna Gaca of Pitchfork.
“Watching the events from within, it feels sadly predictable…a long, impromptu scene shot on a cellphone camera from knee height, in which Swift, overcome by giddy terror, posts her message to Instagram.”
“Miss Americana” increase to 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 24 reviews. pic.twitter.com/dJvHgGzmSf
— Taylor Charts (@chartstaylor13) January 26, 2020
As part of that journey, director Lana Wilson tries to interrogate what makes Taylor tick, and decides that almost every decision she has made can be pinned down to her need for approval.
“For someone who’s ‘built their whole belief system on getting people to clap for you’, a single murmur in the crowd can be enough to tilt their world off its axis,” writes David Ehrlich of IndieWire. “When too many people wanted her to be too many things, her most reliable defence mechanism was soured into a recipe for self-loathing.”
It’s Still A Little Frothy
Most negative to lukewarm reviews of the film allege that it just doesn’t go quite far enough. Miss Americana might be critical of the pop star machine, but it’s still itself a part of the very process of mythmaking. This isn’t a warts-and-all story about the horrors of the capitalist process — it’s still a “feature-length extension of the behind-the-scenes songwriting clips she’s released in the past”, as Garca puts it.
Benjamin Lee of The Guardian is even more damning. “Here is a character study authored by the character who’s being studied, a carefully controlled continuation of a story we have been following now for years,” he writes. “It’s brand management dressed up as insight and while it’s not not entertaining, it’s certainly far from particularly revealing, playing more like a PR exercise than a festival-worthy feature.”
This is a film about someone who will never have to work a traditional job, and who paid for that privilege by skipping over some of the life lessons most of us learned in our teens and 20s https://t.co/hElyBUTNMI
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) January 29, 2020
Still, Lee acquiesces that the documentary is a gift for Swift fans. Given this is a singer who likes to speak in code, dropping hints rather than bombshell interviews, Miss Americana is an attempt to speak plainly; without artifice. To longtime Swifties, that sure sounds like heaven.