‘Miss Americana,’ the First Celebrity Documentary About Learning How to Vote Blue
I saw the Miss Americana movie. In this mostly verité documentary, Taylor Swift, an unimaginably wealthy, incredibly beautiful, supremely talented, and nearly universally beloved pop star finds the courage within herself to become a Democrat. This conversion comes about because a California DJ gropes her during a photo shoot and then has the nerve to sue her for calling him out in public. Swift counter-sues for a dollar, but finds the subsequent trial humiliating and dehumanizing. Then the Republican Party in Taylor Swift’s home state of Tennessee puts up for re-election a Senatorial candidate, Marsha Blackburn, who voted to strike down the Violence Against Women Act. Swift finds this outrageous. Thus, out of the chrysalis of self-absorbed megacelebrity emerges Taylor Swift, a righteous pink butterfly of #Resistance.
Director Lana Wilson captures this political awakening in real time, breaking from the usual musical documentary talking-head-and-concert-footage format. Taylor Swift does a lot of talking, but never looks straight at the camera. There are many scenes of her reading her teenage diary while petting her lovely cat, who she sometimes brings on her private jet in a windowed backpack. For ten minutes, Swift writes a bad pop song with Brendon Urie from Panic! At The Disco.
Along the way, she discusses her struggles with an eating disorder, her essential loneliness, her respect for her mother, and how it’s hard to find true love when creepy fans are breaking into your apartment and sleeping in your bed. She wants to paint herself as an everywoman, speaking out against rampant gender inequality. But Taylor Swift doesn’t have universal problems. She has Taylor Swift problems. She speaks with a courage that most of us will never understand, if she does say so herself. This movie won’t let us forget that courage.
I just gave @taylorswift13 the Woman Of The Decade award at @billboard awards and she fucking WENT there with her speech. Watching a young woman speak up and speak out like that, completely Fearlessly and unapologetically about rampant gender inequality… was pretty iconic. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/mY8ssqy8kl
— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) December 13, 2019
The Taylor Swift documentary covers similar themes as the excellent documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, floating around unpublicized somewhere in the streaming ether. Miss Americana is a better film, as films go. The Linda Rondstadt movie over-relies on talking heads, some of whom appear to have a secret anti-Ronstadt agenda. But the actual quality of the music makes a big difference. Miss Americana takes great pains to tell us that Taylor Swift is the hardest working person in show business. She’s not some sort of manufactured pop star, the movie says. She’s an actual artist. All this is certainly true. But let’s see her step onto the stage and belt out some Gilbert and Sullivan, or unleash something one-eighth as powerful as Canciones de Mi Padre. Not possible.
But OK, Boomer. Taylor Swift isn’t Linda Ronstadt. This is still an engaging hagiography. Because I’m old and grumpy, I didn’t know that much about Taylor Swift before entering the Miss Americana Matrix. I left my viewing with appreciation, though I did find her pretty didactic. She’s strong and smart and tough, which Miss Americana will also not let us forget.
The film ends with Taylor Swift writing a song to young people telling them not to be sad that Beto and Stacey Abrams lost, because 2020 is right around the corner and the Blue Wave is coming. “It’s time to take the masking tape off my mouth,” she says. “Like, forever.”
But now that the political season has launched for reals and things are looking awful dicey for Resistance Dems, Swift’s social media feed is staying out of the fray, mostly telling people to watch Miss Americana and talking about how “scary” it is to be “vulnerable.” That’s quite true. It’s also the kind of self-promotion that will survive any political cycle. This is who Taylor Swift really is, this is who we are, and this is how it will probably be, like, forever.
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So it’s finally out! #MissAmericana is on @netflixfilm and I’m really excited for you to see it. I want to thank @lanawilson for her endless curiosity and for wanting to make this film. It’s pretty wild to be sharing this much of my life because it’s pretty scary to be vulnerable! (understatement of the century) But I’m also so grateful to the critics and journalists who have so thoughtfully watched and reflected on the film. 🙏🌯🐱🎒🎶
This concludes my review of the Miss Americana movie.