The music that artists, and particularly singers, create can be highly influential on their audiences and fans. Lyrics may be memorized and repeated often, and associated with causes and ideas. Those ties may not be intentional or at all representative of the true feelings of the artist, and it’s impossible to know what they really think without hearing it directly from them. Documentaries about musicians have the potential to be eye-opening and tell a larger story about a public figure that might have never previously been explored. Alanis Morissette gets the opportunity to tell her story in Jagged, but it doesn’t seem like she’s at all happy with the finished product.
The Canadian-born Morissette is perhaps best known for Jagged Little Pill, a record that in 1995, when she was only twenty-one years old, catapulted her to international success. Her stage presence and style inspired later generations of artists and even led to an acclaimed Broadway musical. Now that some time has passed, Morissette can reflect back on her meteoric rise to fame with the added perspective of adulthood and an understanding of how the industry functions.
This film offers complete access to Morissette, interviewing her directly and giving her free reign to answer all questions in as detailed a manner as she sees fit. There is significant footage of her from shows and other recordings that explains how she behaved and interacted with the world, and she speaks to the camera with a more reserved, introspective tone, one that conveys considerable life experience and a more mature outlook on how she was managed and manipulated by others at a young age. She reveals frequent, repeated interactions that she now comprehends should be considered statutory rape since she was only fifteen and could not possibly have given consent.
But there is a peculiar contradiction to the microphone given to Morissette. She did not attend the film’s premiere in Toronto, which director Alison Klayman explained to Deadline as purely incidental: “Of course, it would have been great if she could be here with us, but I’m so grateful for all the time that she did put into making this film. It’s a really hard thing, I think, to see a movie made about yourself.”
What Morissette had to say in a statement, however, indicates a fierce objection to the film as a whole: “I was lulled into a false sense of security and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film. This is when I knew our visions were in fact painfully diverged. This was not the story I agreed to tell. I sit here now experiencing the full impact of having trusted someone who did not warrant being trusted.”
There is an unfortunate irony to Morisette being able to tell “her side” of the story about others taking advantage of her only to have the same thing happen again, albeit in a different form. She is no longer a teenager being exploited or sexually assaulted, but now someone who still has no control over the narrative of her own life, used as part of a larger effort to paint the music industry as toxic or some other nefarious cause. Morissette appears sincere and honest in what she says throughout the film’s extended interviews, but it’s impossible to disregard the way she now sees her participation in a project that apparently doesn’t represent her viewpoint.
When a film based on true events is made, there are often objections raised by those who were involved in what actually happened about how the script rewrites characters or plot points to twist reality or paint things in a problematic light. Yet this is a documentary, one made by an experienced nonfiction filmmaker, but the pointed response by its subject calls into question its authenticity and dependability, which lessens its impact. The package feels like it should be just as suspect as its content, however compelling and valid everything sounds when Morissette is saying it.
Jagged is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala Presentations section and will be released by HBO on November 19th.