Directed by Alison Klayman.
Starring Alanis Morissette.
A documentary centered on the life and work of Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.
The second entry into HBO and Bill Simmons’ Music Box series – following the riveting Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage – offers up a breezy-yet-substantial exploration of Alanis Morissette’s formative years in the music industry, courtesy of filmmaker Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry).
Jagged moors itself around the Canadian singer-songwriter’s meteoric rise to fame in the mid ’90s following the release of her phenomenally successful record “Jagged Little Pill,” which in turn paved the way for many outspoken female artists to follow in her footsteps. Melding a treasure trove of behind-the-scenes period video with gorgeous concert footage and new interviews with Morissette herself, Klayman’s doc is a treat sure to enthrall her fans while briskly educating neophytes.
In straight-forward fashion, Klayman traces the musician’s early days and mostly wholesome, drama-free upbringing, before diving headlong into Morissette’s experiences as a young teenager in the music ‘biz. Breaking into the industry in the early ’90s, Morissette did her best to skirt the typical trappings, both as it pertained to the integrity of her music and the sadly inevitable sexual advances from men in positions of power.
In eye-opening fashion, she notes the staggering lack of protections afforded to her in the earlier stages of her career, with numerous statutory rape encounters causing her to seek therapy in later life, yet somehow not implode as so many other afflicted entertainers with similar stories have. Furthermore, Morissette had to battle the spectre of an eating disorder, a condition only exacerbated by an industry keener to talk about her weight than the content of her work.
Not that Morissette’s artistic life was much easier, being forced to chip away at an industry largely unwilling to listen to her irreverent brand of pop-rock; she was passed over by various labels for wanting to branch out into more adventurous territory. In an era where radio stations were mandated not to play two female artists back-to-back, what chance did Alanis really stand?
But she persevered and eventually got her message heard against enormous odds; Jagged Little Pill proved the commercial viability of a female artist to bean-counting men beyond any doubt, charting the path for so many women who followed her. Then came the MTV media blitz, as did her first big tour, which Morissette spends much of the doc wistfully remembering, accompanied by fantastic backstage B-roll and particularly amusing insight from former drummer Taylor Hawkins (who departed after that tour to join Foo Fighters).
Many of Morissette’s aspersions about the intensity of fame and the perilous place of a woman in a male-dominated media landscape won’t be the least bit surprising, but her deeply personal experience brings defining clarity to concepts viewers may only have a superficial idea of. Again, that she came out the other side a fully actualised human being and now appears to live a comfortable life with a loving family is frankly miraculous.
Morissette’s infectiously charming personality makes this film an extraordinarily easy sit, and she’s evidently lost none of the pithy storytelling knack that made her a star in the first place. Though providing grand insights into the artistic process and the scope of her success, she comes across as a surprisingly humble, even-handed person to whom the strangeness of global mega-fame has never been lost.
Klayman buoys the star interview with supporting talking heads from many of those on the front lines with Morissette, as well as critics and a few choice celebrities, namely Garbage’s Shirley Manson and director Kevin Smith (in whose film Dogma Morissette famously cameoed as God herself).
While there’s probably not a lot here that the die-hard set won’t already know about the singer-songwriter, the allure of a confessional sit-down with Morissette should prove entrancing enough to fans and newbies alike.
If far from definitive, Jagged is nevertheless a highly illuminating portrait of Morissette, who has navigated the circus of pop-rock superstardom with impressively steadfast resolve.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.