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TIFF 2021 Review: Jagged – “A fun trip down memory lane”

Image courtesy of TIFF

I can still remember the first time I heard, and saw, the music video for Alanis Morissette‘s smash hit “You Oughta Know.”  I was in my early teens and had accompanied my dad on a business trip to, coincidentally, Morissette’s hometown of Ottawa.  I was in awe.  I’d never heard anything like it.  Left to my own devices while my father was in meetings, I went straight to the mall that was attached to the hotel and purchased the cassette (yes I still listened to tapes then) from the HMV store (yes those existed too.  It was 1995!).  Jagged Little Pill was, at that age, my little act of rebellion.  It was shocking to me then – “Would she go down on you in a theatre?” GASP.  That album though for me was transformative, and even still, 26 years after its release with over 33 million copies sold, Jagged Little Pill is one of the greats.  Its music still strikes a chord.

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Jagged, the documentary from director Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Brink) takes a look at this epic album from the point of conception through to its final tour date in Hawaii.  Using a mix of concert footage and tape from the band while on tour, the documentary has a fun and nostalgic feel.  Collaborator Glen Ballard, fellow 90’s lead singer Shirley Manson (Garbage) as well as radio DJs from the time are amongst some of the interviewees.  As is Morissette herself, who appears cross-legged and casually dressed as she speaks about her experience creating and touring Jagged Little Pill.

While her rise to meteoric levels of fame was exceptionally fast, Morissette had been in the music industry already prior to that point.  As well as starring in a Canadian children’s TV show You Can’t Do That on Television (which was my viewing when I was home for lunch), Morissette had a much more pop-driven debut album featuring the single “Too Hot.”  When she started creating music for Jagged Little Pill it became clear the music industry didn’t know what to do with her.  She was no longer going down the ‘pop princess’ track.  She was baggy t-shirts and jeans.  She was long, messy hair.  Even now it’s hard to picture many stars rising that way.  But that’s one of the things that appealed, and still does – Morissette wasn’t created and concocted by some studio execs.  She was authentic, and has an authentic voice.

It should be noted that while I was watching this documentary, an article in Variety was posted reporting that Morissette was not going to be supporting this film.  The article notes the artist was claimed it, “includes information that is ‘simply not true’ and accusing the filmmakers, had a ‘salacious agenda.’” (You can read the full article and statement here).  It’s unclear what information Morissette is referring to, though some have pointed to her very brief discussion in the film of sexual encounters that occurred when she was 15, that she labels as statutory rape, as a possible source.  Either way, she notes, “This was not the story I agreed to tell.”

Watching the film knowing she disapproves of something that she took part in does taint the overall feel of the documentary.  To the point where I have difficulty rating it.  A documentary filmmaker needs the trust of their subject, and clearly that was broken.  However, if Morissette and Klayman originally set out to create a piece to celebrate the phenomenon of Jagged Little Pill and its 25th anniversary, then that mission was accomplished.  For any fan of Alanis Morissette you’re likely to enjoy Jagged, but perhaps need to watch while interpreting things said in a different light.  Or maybe you’ll decide not to support the film at all.  Either way, from a documentary perspective, it doesn’t dig terribly deep, but it’s a fun trip down memory lane honouring some great music.

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