Netflix Mini-Review – Taylor Swift: Miss Americana: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Use My Voice

Taylor Swift gives her fans a glimpse into her life and some of her harder choices over the years.

SUMMARY

It’s a documentary about Taylor Swift, so I’m just going to link her Wikipedia Page. It covers a lot of her life, although it mostly focuses on the period from 2017-2019 between the albums Reputation and Lover

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She’s a singer and songwriter, in case I forgot to mention.

END SUMMARY

I’ll start with a disclaimer: I don’t know a ton about Taylor Swift… or any musician whose career began after Green Day released American Idiot. This is because I am A) old and B) uncool. What I DO know about Taylor Swift I only know because two women in my life are obsessive fans who tend to force me to listen to her music and watch her videos whenever they have the opportunity. I will say that I definitely recognize that Taylor Swift is extremely talented and I like what music I have heard by her, but she’s not a big part of my life. That definitely meant that this documentary was not really targeted towards me.

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Seeing her in Cats didn’t exactly help.

Which is why it surprised me how much I enjoyed it.

Don’t get me wrong, due to the nature of trying to do a biopic like this, a LOT of stuff is just addressed nominally like it was part of a highlight reel, but the film counterbalances that by being pretty focused on Swift’s emotions rather than just her accomplishments. It tries to get into what drives her, what has shaped her, and what she’s realized about herself after all she’s gone through. 

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Also, she carries her cat in a backpack and that’s adorable. 

Swift admits early on in the documentary that most of her self-image was tied up in a need to be thought of as “good.” She replies with childhood diary entries that show she lived for the approval of others. Essentially, she admits from the beginning that she has a fragile sense of her own self worth and always has, and that she seeks external validation to compensate. That would usually be the giant climax revelation of a documentary and I think it comes out in the first 20 minutes. Additionally, rather than having an external commentator make the revelation, Swift just makes it as a carefully considered admission. It shows that she intends to be open and emotionally vulnerable during the film and it does indeed play out more like a confessional story than a promotional one.

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My pajamas aren’t this nice, nor would I be honest to strangers in them.

She talks about her past issues with body dysmorphia that led her to have an eating disorder and the fact that she still struggles with it. She still has issues perceiving herself as attractive, but at least she now has the self-awareness to not let it affect her behavior. She has similar revelations throughout the entire story, conveying that she’s had to do a lot of soul-searching over the last few years, seemingly spurred on by a combination of lack of connections and her mother’s battle with cancer. It’s honestly amazing how much self-awareness she seems to have. Typically rock stars don’t give these kinds of honest assessments until they’re ancient. 

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Or never.

The film also covers her feelings about some of the more public issues she’s had, including her complicated history with Kanye West and her sexual assault. Both of these made her feel powerless, albeit in different ways, which led to her responding by being more outspoken and caring less about public opinion over her own sense of justice. This, in turn, leads to her speaking out during the 2018 midterm elections, particularly against now-Senator Marsha Blackburn. It’s genuinely disheartening to hear Swift say that she doesn’t want someone like Blackburn (a staunch anti-Gay Rights and anti-Women’s Rights advocate) to represent Tennessee Christians to the rest of the country. Naturally, Blackburn won by more than 10 points, because of course she did. Still, Swift doesn’t seem to regret risking her reputation and her career on speaking out against her. 

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Reminder: Swift had trouble winning a sexual assault suit with a photo of it happening.

That’s really the culmination of this movie: Taylor Swift using her voice to speak out even if it leads people to criticize her. For someone who has had such issues with reacting to public ire, this is a courageous act. At the end she does worry if her career will be going downhill now that she’s 30, but given that her last album outsold the other 199 albums on the Billboard top 200 (combined) during its first week, I’m guessing she’s got a bit of time left. Also, she has $300 Million, so I’m pretty sure she’s going to be fine.  Also also, she released this video this week and it’s a pretty solid f*ck you to a lot of people and I love it:

Overall, this was a really solid documentary. I think I’ll check out the other works by Director Lana Wilson.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Cats – It’s Im-purr-fect, but Not A Total Cat-tastrophe 

Critics seem to be coughing up hairballs, but I think they fur-got what the show was in the first place.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for a musical older than almost any of you reading this)

There are few summaries as Cat-sh*t crazy as this film’s plot, but it’s mostly the same as the musical. 

Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is an abandoned cat in the middle of London. She is greeted by a group of “Jellicle” cats who inform her that they are on their way to the Jellicle Ball. Jellicles will be judged for their singing by Old Deuteronomy (Dame Judi “Thank the Phoenicians” Dench) and the winner will be given a unique gift: They’ll be reborn into a new life. Along the way, Victoria meets the “narrator” Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild), the magical cat Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), the theatre cat Gus (Ian McKellen), the twin cat burglars Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer (Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan), the railway cat Skimbleshanks (Steven McRae), the fickle Rum Tum Tugger (Jason Derulo), the fat elite cat Bustopher Jones (James Corden), and the more-than-a-little-stir-crazy cat Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson). Trying to upset the contest is the mystery cat Macavity (Idris “Black Superman” Elba) and his agents Captain Growltiger (Ray “Come on, you know who I am” Winstone) and Bombalurina (Taylor “Tay-Tay Von Swizzlesticks” Swift), who attempt to abduct the competitors and the judge. However, in the end, the contest is won by Jennifer Hudson when she sings “Memory.” Yeah, her character’s name is Grizabella, but it’s Jennifer Hudson and YOU WILL RESPECT HER.

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Respect her, even as this.

END SUMMARY

This movie has been beaten by critics with every known implement of cinematic abuse, including bad puns. Hell, the Rotten Tomatoes summary says “Despite its fur-midable cast, this Cats adaptation is a clawful mistake that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their mew-sery.” I admit that I, myself, only saw this film because I was dragged, clawing and hissing, by another person who has tolerated similar-caliber films on my behalf and I expected a travesty of near Biblical proportions. 

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Their opening in Egypt was apparently pretty rough.

Instead, I got a mediocre adaptation of a musical. 

Yes, as everyone has been talking about, the actors in this movie are given coverings of CGI cat bodies and they are fairly unnerving. Yes, the sets are designed to give the actors the same proportional sizes as a regular cat, which can be extremely disorienting. Those are going to turn a lot of people off very quickly from the film and I get why. Honestly, I was surprised how little it ended up bothering me after I acclimated to it. Given that Cats has always been super weird I think others would have felt the same if the film didn’t have what I’m now realizing is Tom Hooper’s musical signature: Pointless realism. 

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It’s impressive to take humans and put them back in the uncanny valley.

If you watched the film adaptation of Les Miserables, I’m sure you have an idea of what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t, the movie has several scenes of realism that bring the audience out of the movie. Musicals aren’t supposed to be accurate to life, after all, so we don’t need to hear the sick “crack” of Javert’s head hitting the ground when he jumps off of a bridge or the bloody splatters of Gavroche getting shot. Those moments don’t make us more immersed in the experience, they create a greater incongruity between the musical parts and the rest of the film. Similarly, watching Rebel Wilson eating a bunch of roaches (even tap-dancing ones) and scratching her thighs while spread eagled like a regular cat doesn’t exactly mesh well with her subsequently unzipping her skin to reveal another outfit underneath. This is the kind of thing that permeates the film… too much realism matched with too much surrealism or theatrical realism. Now, I can say that I see what they were going for, having the cats sometimes act more beastial and sometimes more human in order to emphasize their emotions, but it just doesn’t feel like it. It feels… well, gross. 

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Yes, she unzips her body TWICE and it makes no damned sense. 

Having said all of that, the movie does have some good things going for it. Almost every performer is cast perfectly. They added a little talking and gave the film a slightly more exciting plot by expanding Macavity’s character, even though the plot is still minimal (and always has been). The song that Taylor Swift wrote for the movie, “Beautiful Ghosts,” gives Victoria a solid number that helps expand her character and give her more of a connection with Grizabella. Several of the songs were given a few updates and changes that were really solid and the performance of “Macavity: The Mystery Cat” by Taylor Swift and Idris Elba was freaking amazing. Lastly, Jennifer Hudson did absolutely nail “Memory.” I know that the song has been overdone and covered so many times that there is a joke in the film Jersey Girl about every single child at a talent show singing it, but it’s still a great song and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t misty-eyed after it. 

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She’s the T.S. in T.S. Eliot. 

Overall, this movie wasn’t necessarily “bad” as much as it is “disappointing.” With so many great performances and so much going for it, the film still falls flat because of some really bad creative decisions. Can we maybe just keep Tom Hooper away from musicals from now on? 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.