Review: Miss Americana (2020) – Brand Isn’t Everything

Taylor Swift in Miss Americana

There is an inherent tragedy to Lana Wilson’s Miss Americana, a look behind the curtain at life for megastar Taylor Swift. While its mission goes far beyond answering who Swift is outside of the tabloid rumours and public vitriol over what ultimately amounts to half a story, it has to contend with the misconceptions of being just another celebrity documentary. Despite a clear focus to humanise a modern day role model for young women, it frames it’s narrative around the idiocy of having to tell this story in the first place, the double standards that brought us to this point and how we can change that fact, not now, but in the future.

Focusing mainly on the years between her Reputation tour and the release of her followup album Lover, Miss Americana goes into detail about everything from her sexual assault trial to the endless parade of rumours surrounding her love life. Throughout not only does the film show a woman figuring out who she should be but the power her words and actions carry, not only through her music but her politics.

The shocking part of Wilson’s film is that much like an animated family film, Miss Americana aims at multiple audiences, not just the audience it could assume would watch, the fans wanting an intimate look at someone who for all intents and purposes, proves enigmatic because of the cloud of assumptions written about her. Instead it plays as a celebration of an artist for her supporters and a chastisement of those who filled the blank spaces surrounding her with their own ideas, be they harmful or innocent. The old adage about assumption hangs heavy here while never forcing judgement, instead a guiding hand, a progressive push towards a lesson, never a lecture.

Opening with an extended sequence, a day in the life experience, peppered with talking heads, actively inviting the kind of supposition the film actively wants to rid us of. An opening scene where Swift discovers she hasn’t been nominated for any Grammy awards tells two stories but at first all it seems is entitled, a naive girl expecting devotion. Hidden in the same sequence is a gracious loser, one villainised for her work ethic by our inherent need to paint people as the bad guy to make ourselves feel better. That account, the one Wilson seems intent on shining her spotlight on, is what makes Miss Americana special.

Swift herself doesn’t escape a lens seeking out hypocrisy. There is an inherent privilege that sometimes makes certain scenes feel disingenuous but the constantly shifting persona of someone intent on learning from mistakes is somebody worth studying, regardless of flaws or once again, assumed inadequacies. In fact the seemingly perfect person her company want to make her through the carefully crafted ‘strategy’ Swift herself speaks of, is destroyed here, rightfully so, she doesn’t exist. Wilson is after realism, not the fiction audiences were sold, but the reality, fears and all.

Carefully building to an ending entirely focused upon Swift’s political actions, Miss Americana’s conclusion may well shift depending upon your own views but Wilson uses this closing record to speak more towards not just Swift’s own journey towards finding her voice, be it in politics or as a person, but our own journeys to figuring out who we are. The only real enemy here is the kind of complacency that halts change and growth. Sure its a film about compassion instead of indifference but mostly its about self growth and knowing that its okay not to have all the answers.

Deeper in the film however is something more insideous. Wilson’s feature lacks a male voice or even presence but its a presence that is impossible to ignore. The voices of descent, the ones with expectations of how one should act or what a woman should say all come from male voices. It is impossible not to notice, a shameful burying of not just a female voice, but of a young person for whom wisdom is yet to come. Wilson craves these double standards not to shame those perpetuating them but to embolden those subjected to them to stand up and speak out.

Overall Miss Americana is an uplifting, honest and heartfelt snapshot that could easily have developed into a series as Wilson makes clear by the films conclusion that Swift’s story isn’t over, in fact this is just the beginning, not because of her bright star power but because she is constantly evolving into a role model not just for women but her generation.

TSR

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