Taylor Swift in "Miss Americana" a Netflix documentary about the...

Taylor Swift in "Miss Americana" a Netflix documentary about the pop music superstar. Credit: Netflix

DOCUMENTARY "Miss Americana"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Taylor Swift opens up for the cameras in this behind-the-scenes documentary by Lana Wilson. It follows the megastar as she reflects on the differences between her tabloid image and reality, confronts some of the darkest periods in her life, writes and records her latest album "Lover" and weighs whether to jump into the political fray for the first time with an endorsement of Tennessee Democrats ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

MY SAY There's a certain level of distrust inherent in watching a project like "Miss Americana," where one of the biggest giants in the history of show business professes to be game for a candid nonfiction treatment. You're simply not going to find an unvarnished look at Taylor Swift in an authorized documentary. The stakes are too high.

But with the exception of the awkward way the film treats her relationship with boyfriend Joe Alwyn — he's briefly alluded to, seen in anonymous framing from behind, and then never heard from again — the movie does feel like a fundamentally honest and open piece of work. 

It's a credit to the filmmaker and to Swift herself that the film achieves that, because it could have easily swerved fully into the infomercial direction. The icon has a lot she wants to say here and the movie works best when she lets her guard down in a serious way.

The truth is that it's a powerful experience to hear someone who has achieved the absolute pinnacle of her profession detail her struggle with eating problems, the ways the infamous Kanye West interruption at the 2009 MTA VMAs deeply and enduringly impacted her, and how her experience being groped by a Denver DJ and testifying about it in court irrevocably changed her understanding of how to use her celebrity.

There's plenty of appeal to the scenes of Swift in the studio, putting together her next batch of hits alongside her producers. They're a testament to hard work and genuine creativity:The movie makes a point of stressing that she writes her own songs and it's clear she's heavily involved in construction of the different creative directions she takes. The surreal experience of being Taylor Swift resonates as she leaves her Manhattan home to a throng of fans, or faces a barrage of cameras on red carpets.

That's all familiar and recognizable, though. This is hardly the first movie to depict the experience of being famous on this scale. 

Where "Miss Americana" stands apart is in the ways the filmmaker handles the traumatic experience of the groping and the ways Swift harnessed that terrible experience to arrive at something of an awakening. It's not enough to stand onstage and celebrate gay pride, she says in a wrenching scene with her advisors, it's time to take a stand. The surprise political endorsements follow, the advocacy for voting registration begins and it's clear this star has been reborn.

BOTTOM LINE "Miss Americana" offers an effective backstage look at Taylor Swift that works best when the megastar opens up about her life and experiences in surprisingly candid ways.

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