A thing that makes me apprehensive whenever I watch a music documentary is the potential of it gushing too much about its subject. Sure, an artist might have enough great works to earn those heaps of praise. But watching that on repeat isn’t exactly what I would call a productive piece of art. And let’s get this out of the way: Jagged does not avoid the gushing. There are several moments where admirers dissect what makes songs like Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” so impactful. That said, residing under that layer of hagiography is a documentary with genuine nuance.
Jagged explores Morissette’s early music career, as it spans from the late-1980s to the mid-1990s. As such, we first get a glimpse of her as a teenager writing and singing her own songs. In addition to that, we get a sense of an industry that wants her to conform to the standards of a glamorous performer. But more importantly, it covers the history of her third studio album Jagged Little Pill and how her fame skyrocketed from there. This album also represents the first time in which she gets to express her feelings her way. No more does she have to confront producers who don’t care about her natural image.
Part of a documentary’s appeal comes from the material it has, and director Alison Klayman has gathered a bunch of great material. Specifically, it cobbles various examples of video footage across Morissette’s career. So not only do you get the usual behind-the-scenes concert footage, but you also get Morissette appearances in things most people don’t know. This is most apparent in the music videos she did as a teenager. All of them depict her in garish makeup and hairstyles, and it’s so clear that she does not feel comfortable in any of them. With these glimpses into the past, there’s no need for a detailed narration.
Not to say that it doesn’t rely on detailed narrations for other things, though. The bulk of Jagged involves current-day interviews with Morissette as well as the band members and producers that helped her over the years. And with all of those voices receiving equal treatment, Jagged Little Pill soon becomes a major point of discussion. It’s not just about how they developed songs like “Hand in My Pocket”. It’s also about how they became a found family and wanted to stay as one for the love of the music. Quite honestly, it’s in these moments where Klayman hits on something wonderful.
Klayman, in general, guides the project from an informational piece to an emotional piece with ease. At one point, she reveals that Morissette has had a long history of victimization – particularly sexual abuse. And to the film’s credit, this detail does not emerge in line with the chronological order. Instead, it appears at a later point in which Morissette reflects on what made her the person she is today. It would be easy to front-load the viewer with that tragic piece of information. But with it being near the end, you get to feel the gravity of the past alongside Morissette.
The least groundbreaking moments of Jagged are the times when it serves as a jukebox for Jagged Little Pill itself. In all fairness, Klayman tries to emphasize Morissette’s intent by showing the lyrics on the screen. And of course, the songs themselves have not lost an ounce of luster. However, the song snippets are so lengthy that it almost feels like putting on the album. It also doesn’t help that these parts are where you get a real taste of the gushing talking heads. I suppose some people will get a kick out of seeing Kevin Smith – who worked with Morissette on his film Dogma – speak a few words in her favor. For myself, however, I wish Klayman found a way to resist these conventional urges.
Still, that leaves a lot of room for Jagged to paint its subject in an interesting light. Fortunately, it does a rather terrific job on that front. To see a person muscle through the industry constraints in order to showcase their true self is always an inspiring thing. And with Klayman assembling footage with skill, it manages to resonate even for someone who was not alive during Morissette’s peak. There’s a part of me that wishes for something more artistically ambitious. But when the final product is this effective in its simplicity, it’s hard not to walk away happy. – Mark Tan
Jagged‘s release date has yet to be announced.