Sundance 2020 Review: Taylor Swift: Miss Americana
While premiering a documentary about one of the world’s biggest pop stars at the Sundance Film Festival doesn’t exactly scream “indie,” I must admit watching a documentary about Taylor Swift with a Sundance crowd was an interesting experience. While there were clearly a lot of Swifty fans in attendance, I noticed older men and women, who I am not entirely sure knew very much about who she even was before seeing this film, made up most of the audience. That said, there was a lot of engagement from the crowd, including a lot of laughter and applause. The audience, whether they were fans or not, seemed to be invested in the film.
Miss Americana premiered at Sundance because filmmaker Lana Wilson was discovered at the festival back in 2003. Her first feature documentary, After Tiller, premiered here and was very well received by critics and audience members alike. This is Wilson’s third documentary, and while the focus is on a massive superstar like Taylor Swift, the bulk of the film felt very intimate. There are several scenes during the documentary where we, as viewers, are just watching Tay do normal things, like having a conversation while sharing a glass of wine with a friend or sitting around eating a burrito with her producer.
There are also many scenes where you feel as though you are a fly on the wall. This gives the viewer an in-depth look at what it is like to be Taylor Swift for a day. Additionally, while there are several concert performances mixed in to break things up, something is refreshing about watching a music documentary where you feel like you are getting some real insider info. This isn’t your standard music doc centered around the rise of Taylor Swift, but rather a multilayered documentary covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I was genuinely shocked by how much information was revealed, given the 85-minute runtime.
As someone who considers themselves a Swifty, I felt Wilson found the perfect balance of making a documentary for the fans, as well as for someone who doesn’t really know much about Swift as a person and will possibly walk away with a new level of respect and appreciation for her. Wilson indeed does a terrific job of making the audience connect with Swift on a personal level and feel empathy towards her. Wilson gets inside Swift’s head and allows the viewer to fully understand where she is coming from, how she feels, and what makes her tick.
There were several moments in the film where I found myself becoming oddly emotional, almost to the point of tears. While the film doesn’t spend a lot of time on how Swift became a worldwide phenomenon, it does show her accomplishments. It also focuses on a lot of the bad things that happened to her over the past 15 years. My emotional reaction to what was shown hit me hard because it reminded me of how much anger and hate exist in this world.
The film addresses the whole “Taylor Swift is Over Party” thing that happened a few years back, and it made me think about how cruel we often are to others, and how we act when we are behind our screens. I felt so awful for her and what it must have been like to wake up one morning, seeing your name posted everywhere, with millions of people saying how much they hate you. It really bothered me, but that goes to show you how compelling this documentary is.
For those wondering if there are any big reveals or surprises in the film, I would say there were a few shocking revelations, including how Swift developed an eating disorder and her heavy reliance on the approval of strangers to feel a sense of purpose. There are some other reveals about her life mentioned throughout the film as well, but the biggest takeaway is how much Swift deserves the level of fame and fortune she has earned. Swift has worked tirelessly to get where she is while overcoming tremendous obstacles throughout her career. She is always being criticized by people all over the world who don’t even know who she is or what she stands for, and yet Swift keeps pushing herself to be better every day.
Taylor Swift: Miss Americana may not be a game-changer when it comes to documentary filmmaking, but it is emotionally effective, surprisingly entertaining, and incredibly inspiring. While Swift’s music might not connect with everyone, it is hard to deny — especially after seeing this film — that she is someone whose hard work, passion, dedication, and hope to make the world a better place should be embraced and celebrated.