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TIFF Review: Like It or Not, “Jagged” Is All About Alanis

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 19th, 2021

JAGGED title card in HBO’s “Music Box” series trailer

Jagged (Alison Klayman, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

It would be irresponsible to write a review of Alison Klayman’s latest documentary, Jagged, without addressing its protagonist’s vocal opposition to its current form. Canadian musician Alanis Morissette, whose landmark 1995 album Jagged Little Pill gives the film its title, may not like what she’s seen, but good movies, or at least insightful ones, often need to create space between subject and director. There has been a growing trend in recent years of people directly or indirectly involved in cinematic narratives (fiction and nonfiction) to also serve as producers. In those cases, the responsible filmgoer should wonder whose point of view they are seeing. That doesn’t mean that there cannot, and are not, problematic agendas outside of such situations, but the mere fact of personal investment does not guarantee any kind of truth, nor vice versa.

Which brings us to the movie at hand. In her previous work, The Brink, Klayman showed that she was able to stand up to Steve Bannon while deeply embedded in his inner circle. She is nobody’s fool, in other words, though based on the evidence on screen in Jagged, her relationship with her current subject was far more amiable. Indeed, in the prerecorded introduction to the film when it played at the Toronto International Film Festival, Klayman gushed about how much of a fan she was and how making this movie was like a dream come true for her. Hardly a harbinger of objective filmmaking, for sure, but also not the words of someone out to treat her idol with disrespect.

Alanis Morissette in JAGGED ©HBO

For a little over 90 minutes, we listen primarily to Morrissette, herself, discuss her life and career, with occasional interview support from friends, colleagues and others who were along for the ride. While the documentary is not groundbreaking, it offers a positive, detail-filled portrait of Morrissette and her significant achievements, many of which were earned only after significant struggle. By the end, it is amply clear, if one did not already know, that both Jagged Little Pill and its creator have earned a lasting place in music history. For those of us alive and aware of music in the 1990s, that album is inextricably a part of our own soundtrack from that era.

Morrissette was hardly the first female musician to make it big—and this movie would be stronger if it examined, even briefly, her successful predecessors—but her brand of uncompromising lyrics coupled with catchy, hard-thumping tunes heralded a new era for rock and for women. Derided by mostly male critics as “too angry,” she nevertheless spoke to millions through songs like “All I Really Want” (singing “Do I stress you out?”), “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in Pocket” and, perhaps her best-known hit from Jagged Little Pill, “Ironic.” All of this came after initial stardom in Canada on TV and then as a teenage recording artist. As we learn here, those early years were filled with creepy older guys always looking for a chance to take advantage. If angry she indeed was, she certainly had her reasons.

Taylor Hawkins in JAGGED ©HBO

Though Morrissette is front and center (quite literally, since Klayman places her in the middle of the frame), we also hear from two members of her former backup band—drummer Taylor Hawkins (now of The Foo Fighters) and bassist Chris Chaney (now of Jane’s Addiction)—as well as her co-writer on Jagged, Glen Ballard, and countless others, including producers, radio-station programmers and supportive critics. Perhaps somewhere in all those voices, words are spoken that taint this portrait in Morrissette’s eyes. Since the film is about her, she is well within her rights to complain, yet from this reviewer’s perspective, what narrative flaws exist here are ones of context (give us more about other female performers) and dimensionality (there aren’t any opposing voices). Morrissette was and is a star, both on the airwaves and in Jagged. Even if she hates the movie, her fans should love it.

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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