Air Date November 18, 2021: The life and musical career of Alanis Morissette, who reflects on her 1990s rise to rock stardom. Alanis Morissette burst onto the music scene in 1995 with her groundbreaking album, “Jagged Little Pill.” Featuring an in-depth interview with the artist, this film explores her beginnings as a young Canadian pop star, the rocky path she faced navigating the male-dominated music industry, and the glass ceiling she shattered on her journey to becoming a superstar.
Jagged isn’t intended as a reclamation project, because Alanis Morissette is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. Nor is it a straightforward biopic, because were that the case, I’d probably be ticked off at having her entire You Can’t Do That on Television experience dismissed with the line “It was too much like a full-time job.”
Though Klayman offers some biographical setup, Jagged is heavily focused around Jagged Little Pill, a welcome narrowing of vision that lets the director do one thing in reasonable depth, as opposed to trying to cram everything from a lifetime into 96 minutes. In one of the early scenes in the documentary, Morissette takes Klayman on a pilgrimage to her storage locker, a space packed with the sort of treasure trove that will have fans salivating over the box upon box of audiocassette demos and home movies on VHS and various film stocks, plus an entire duffle bag that she laughingly says is packed with love letters from boyfriends past.
Enough backstage and concert footage, enough raw vocal tracks, enough handwritten lyrics find their way into the story, all complementing a wide-ranging group of interview subjects including producer-collaborator Glen Ballard, Maverick Records executive Guy Oseary and multiple members of Morissette’s touring band, led by future Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins. Shirley Manson, of Garbage, gives a Scottish-inflected perspective on Morissette’s impact on the industry and how it learned to treat women who don’t fit into an easily branded pop package, while several commentators, led by Hanif Abdurraqib and Lorraine Ali, perform similar duties from a journalistic perspective.
There’s an exploration of her sense of song structure, of her vivid use of language (if not nearly enough appreciation for her actual voice). There’s a quick dismissal of anybody with the temerity to criticize her definition of “ironic” (though it feels like you can praise that vivid use of language and still carp about “irony”).
Mostly the documentary draws upon Klayman’s conversations with Morissette, who offers funny stories and even a Madonna impression, somewhat softening the sting from the absence of Madonna, impresario of Morissette’s Maverick label, as an on-camera participant. I’d say that Morissette is open, with distinct reservations, and probably was promised by Klayman that this wouldn’t be “that” kind of documentary. Talk of her battle with an eating disorder is circuitous, as are the references to her feelings of sexual exploitation in her early professional years (though her final point on that subject is devastating). I’m not sure #MeToo-style exploration of those topics would necessarily have had a place here, nor was I disappointed that Morissette didn’t feel this was the moment to offer tawdry specifics on any of the men who inspired songs on Jagged Little Pill.
Jagged works as a snapshot of an album that earned affection, album sales and the kind of ubiquity that wouldn’t be possible today. You might think you want the story of a young woman who journeyed into darkness and came out the other side. But if the actual story is of a young woman who used music as therapy (in addition to actual therapy) and was, more often than not, content and even pleased with a moment of success that few of us can fathom?
Total Duration: 1 Hour Minutes 37 Minutes in FULL HD
New cast interviews with the following unless specified by “archive footage”:
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Glen Ballard, Beyoncé (archive footage), Diablo Cody (archive footage), Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumkins archive footage), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden archive footage), Dave Grohl (Nirvana & Foo Fighters), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Courtney Love (HOLE archive footage), Shirley Manson (Garbage), Diane Paulus (archive footage), Pat Smear (Foo Fighters archive footage), Kevin Smith, Taylor Swift (archive footage) and Neil Young