By Amelia Jacob, English Literature, First Year
Erin Lee Carr’s new Netflix documentary opens with a sight now familiar to us in the modern zeitgeist. A clamouring crowd gathered in shared idolatry of a single figure, who is immediately recognisable in popular culture. Out of context, this description could be mistaken for a riot, or a cult gathering. Perhaps both of those are partly true: it’s actually a Britney Spears concert.
The absurdity of fame, as well as the sheer isolation, are captured perfectly in the first minute of ‘Britney vs Spears’. Unfortunately, this is where excellence ends. No sooner than Carr introduces Spears to us in this film does she relegate her to a side character with next to no dialogue in the story of her own life.
The documentary spans from the early years of her career, including her ill-fated marriage to Kevin Federline, until the present day, where a conservatorship led by her father, Jamie Spears, has been in control of her finances, legal and personal rights for the last thirteen years. In just over 90 minutes, Carr- with the help of journalist Jenny Eliscu- poorly attempts to frame Spears through the various testimonies of men involved in her career and personal life. These include figures such as Sam Lufti and Adnan Ghalib: her former manager and ex-boyfriend respectively.
Fundamentally, this documentary falls victim to the beast it supposedly condemns, failing to sensitively explore Spears’ mental breakdown
It seems a bizarre choice in a post ‘Me Too’ media climate to favour these perspectives, especially instead of utilising direct content willingly shared by Spears herself through her social media platforms after years of forced silence. Additionally, legal censorship of official documents explored in the documentary, as well as a lack of people included in the film who have been closely involved in Spears’ personal life in recent years, limit the narrative. Acting as a voyeuristic analysis of Spears’ past trauma, rather than making any new or worthwhile discoveries, this creates an underwhelming effect that follows the film until the end.
Whilst it seems that Carr wants to corroborate and support Spears’ cause and the personal information she has gleaned from various court statements, it appears as an afterthought, disappointingly shoe-horned in after an hour of irrelevant interviews with men looking to improve their own public image, and stake their claim over some part of Spears’ commercial success.
Fundamentally, this documentary falls victim to the beast it supposedly condemns, failing to sensitively explore Spears’ mental breakdown and unconsciously reinforcing her silence. It would have been a better creative decision to base the documentary’s narrative around Spears’ chilling monologue against her father, played during the final dramatic few minutes of the film.
As I write this, Jamie Spears has just been ousted from his position as head of Spears’ conservatorship, but you can't help but feel that documentaries like this were not the contributing factor to this change. If you’re on the hunt for a film that truly embodies the complexities of a star such as Spears, I would give this one a miss.
Featured Image: IMDB
Do you think the documentary adds anything new to the Spears saga?