SXSW Film Review: Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil amplifies her unique voice over the tragedies that have defined her existence

Not unlike the professional front Katy Perry put forward in her Part of Me documentary, where she grinned and performed for a mass crowd only moments after being informed that her marriage (at the time) was over, Demi Lovato similarly bravely faces her adoring fans night after night in the early seconds of Dancing with the Devil, despite the evident pain she’s going through off-stage.

It’s all very comforting to begin with though – the singer changing outfits in rapid succession, smiling and interacting with her dancers, earning much needed rest on private planes, etc – that when Dancing with the Devil, a four-part YouTube series set for release from March 23rd, unleashes its true intentions we are understandably floored at its revelations.

The original intention was to document her 2018 world “Tell Me You Love Me” tour, before a near-fatal overdose drastically warped Lovato’s mentality, with this particular feature (or series) presented in a way that presents the scrapped 2018 documentary footage as a way to show her as she was then, somehow able to convince those around her that she was fine; many of the interviewees involved state that the singer is a little too good at convincing people she’s in a better state than she is.

Following the overdose in 2018, which, as we are told, started off the backend of the singer openly drinking following six years of sobriety, Lovato had 2020 planned as her comeback year.  A rousing turn at that years’ Grammy Awards and an acclaimed Super Bowl turn put her on the right foot with a public that were openly rooting for her.  She’s extremely candid throughout – “I’m just going to say it all, and if we don’t want to use it, we can take it out”, she states in a manner that’s as bold as it is casual – and it’s through that honesty that Dancing with the Devil opens up communicative levels that seem practically unfathomable from a performer as young as we forget she is; the singer having celebrated her 28th birthday last August.

“My MeToo story, is me telling somebody that someone did this to me and they never got in trouble for it. They never got taken out of the movie they were in. But I’ve just kept it quiet because I’ve always had something to say, and I’m tired of opening my mouth.  So there’s the tea”.  Said with an unfortunate confidence that indicates this is a story she’s relived often – this post #MeToo society means the treatment of females has been intricately re-evaluated – Lovato’s candidness is something to be applauded and feared in equal measure, with Dancing with the Devil not just highlighting the singer’s drug addiction (the details being uncomfortably graphic) but a history of sexual abuse that was enclosed by the very brand that was supposedly meant to keep her safe.

In a climate where there’s such secrecy and concern surrounding a pop star such as Britney Spears – arguably the prototype on which Lovato and her peers (Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande) were moulded – the fact that Lovato uses her voice in such a brash manner, unfiltered and unafraid to own her mistakes but maintain a dialogue surrounding the subjects that she seemingly feels the need to defend herself in – the idea of living sober and drug-free is something she readily admits to not wanting to adhere to – is commendable all the same.

Dancing with the Devil very much comes off as the technological equivalent of getting weight off her chest, and the happiness and pride she radiates towards its closing moments suggest that there’s a sense of peace and understanding she, and her team, are comfortable in surrendering to.  So much more than just the tragedy and scandals that follow her, Dancing with the Devil can hopefully only amplify Lovato’s distinctive voice to the point where living her life as her authentic self is a safe space that she and her fans comfortably exist within.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival, which is being presented virtually between March 16th and 20th, 2021.  For more information head to the official SXSW website.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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