"Miss Americana" Movie Review
In July 2016, the interwebs were abuzz with the “TaylorSwiftIsOverParty” hashtag, trumpeting what many thought (and, no doubt, hoped) was the end of an era in pop music. As we have learned in the three years since, however, reports of the singer’s demise were greatly exaggerated. With three 2019 Grammy nominations and more than a million copies of her latest album sold, it’s clear Swift isn’t going anywhere… at least anytime soon.
The global icon, who turned 30 in December, is now the focus of director Lana Wilson’s Netflix documentary Miss Americana, which presents Swift as few have seen her before. The no-holds-barred film at times feels like an episode of Behind the Music (minus Jim Forbes' stellar narration, of course—kids, look it up). It takes us way back to the beginning, as we see home footage of a wee Swift getting her very first guitar. From there it chronicles her rise through the country music ranks all the way to that disastrous summer of 2016 and beyond, before finishing with the debut of her brand new song “Only the Young”.
While devout Swifties will no doubt revel in the Taylor-fest that is Miss Americana, marginal fans may find plenty to latch onto, too, as the intensely personal film holds back little in its presentation of Swift. She’s here for everyone to see, warts and all (and there are plenty), but it’ll be hard to look at her the same way once it’s revealed that there’s actually a person in there. (Go figure.) And Wilson’s decision to chronicle the events of the film by telling us Swift’s age at the time, instead of the year, adds an important level of perspective.
Wilson culled through hours of footage (and Lord knows there’s been plenty over the years) for the 85-minute movie and then conducted a fresh batch of interviews herself. While some of it is purely fun (we get to watch as the hits “Lover” and “ME!” are slowly born) and other parts are cursory retreads of been-there-done-that things like the Kanye incident(s), much of the second half dives deep into far more important things in Swift’s life, including her relatively recent decision to ditch her upbringing and industry training—that is, to always exude happiness and go through life as the “nice girl”—and instead start speaking her mind.
From the political arena to gay rights, Swift has become a commanding voice lately; the secret we learn is that it wasn’t something she whimsically decided to do overnight. Wilson shows us Swift’s own torment and the inner flagellation that preceded the decision, and it’s downright heartbreaking, even (we can only hope) for the cynics who glommed onto the aforementioned hashtag. From her battles with an eating disorder to her 2017 sexual assault case, it’s all here, and along with adding some dimension to the person at the center of it all, it provides a healthy dose of inspiration, especially for the young girls who make up the screaming majority of her fan base.
It may seem strange to think (and ultimately come to understand) that someone barely thirty years old has lived and done enough to warrant such an insightful and deep documentary, but Miss Americana is a surprisingly revelatory film. Wilson does a masterful job at taking us behind the curtain and showing the real story of someone we thought we knew... all too well.