Friday , May 24 2024
Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil, Michael D. Ratner, Demi Lovato, SXSW FF
Demi Lovato in 'Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner, SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

2021 SXSW Film Festival Review: ‘Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil’

What takes Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil beyond the interest of pop music fandom is its unabashed honesty without pandering to sensationalism. Directed by Michael D. Ratner and cobbled together with interviews of friends and family, the film succeeds as an intense biopic of Lovato’s addiction crisis. With input from icons like Elton John, Christina Aguilera, and work colleagues, Ratner shows a women in revolution and evolution.

With assurance the filmmaker covers all the bases, grilling Lovato’s creative team, rehab coach, trainers, and new manager Scooter Braun. Then Ratner blows up the celebrity image and brand to shatter the Lovato myths. If teens follow her as a role model and an advocate for mental health, overcoming eating disorders and achieving sobriety, Lovato’s revelations take her mission to a new level of relevance.

The film hits it out of the park by showing Lovato’s pathos in picaresque. Ratner divides the action into four non-linear, acutely edited segments. He begins with the months in 2018 when it all went wrong. But over the course of the film we see the full poignancy as Lovato affirms that it had gone wrong for a long time. She and her friends, family and team had bought into the “devil’s dance” delusion that obsessive control could answer her internal problems. Her determination and teamwork convinced her that as long as she stayed slender and sober, she remained healthy. Sadly, she fooled everyone, especially herself. Her choices belied her ability to handle deep-rooted emotional and psychological issues. Past trauma whether conscious or unconscious bled into the present and tortured her.

Distress intensified to overwhelm Lovato with sadness and the need to self-medicate. As these internal pressures pushed her to open the floodgates, Lovato suffered a drug relapse. Each of Ratner’s segments touches upon her addictive OCD personality. The documentary’s overarching themes about the fatal flaws that come with celebrity deification crash into the human factor. Inevitably, Lovato believed her own BS, but she was vulnerable. Her unresolved life-and-death problems infiltrated her daily struggles.

In the more salient clips of Lovato commentary the singer she discusses how she lived on the edge, seeking destruction in secret silence, despite being surrounded by loving individuals. Examples abound. She speaks of regrets about her father’s ignoble drug death, alone, his body found decomposing. And she relates that she never worked through sexual traumas (a rape by a co-celebrity, etc.). Though the “me” aspect of the documentary sometimes slogs from “reveal” to “reveal” without variation, Ratner keeps Lovato’s story uplifting. In the final analysis Lovato moves to summarize what she’s learned. And we find comfort in empathizing with her journey into a hell of her own making to emerge into healing.

Ratner nearly completed an earlier a documentary on Lovato in 2018. The filmmakers employ the footage of the earlier work to compare Lovato’s states of mind before and after the overdose. Highlights of her “Tell Me That You Love Me World Tour” with footage of the shimmering star combined with current footage reveals the truth of her condition during that time.

The film contrasts her promises and affirmations in 2018 against her current truthful revelations, especially after her overdose. Even in this age of lying, her statements shock. These obfuscations resound as she points out her hidden misery, pain and anger.

Amidst this backdrop of illusions about being well while on a collusion course, her voice sounds incredible. Ratner includes a sound clip of her mother Dianna De La Gaza in June 2018, one month before Demi’s overdose. De La Gaza tells Demi that her voice is “the best ever.” At the height of her talents, death comes knocking and nearly takes her.

During the tour Lovato fronted all the positives to maintain the good-girl sobriety image. She fooled those closest to her. But the tour documentary of 2018 never got off the ground, and all we have are salvaged clips.

Instead, Ratner and Lovato split open her guts and set the record straight bravely and boldly in Dancing With The Devil. Lovato confesses she did drugs unbeknownst to her friends and team. After celebrating her choreographer Dani Vitale’s birthday, Demi called a drug dealer. In the early morning, when none of her friends or team was around, Lovato sabotaged herself, her life, her career, her self-love and her agency. She overdosed on a mega combination of crack cocaine, heroin and OxyContin laced with Fentanyl. These she chased with alcohol. Meanwhile, she remembered later that the drug dealer had nonconsensual sex with her and abandoned her. Ten more minutes from discovery, she would have died.

Through this four-part series, we come to understand the driven and obsessed Lovato, the star who pushed herself beyond her limit for wellness. Ironically, her six-year abstemiousness actually fueled her desire to jump off the merry-go-round of sobriety. Ratner even interviews the physician who saved her life. And he discusses just how miraculous her recovery was, but not without consequences. Lovato’s overdose caused brain damage: she had a heart attack and three strokes.

Now, she is able to laugh with friends. However, her sisters Madison and Dallas, her mother Dianna and her stepfather all agree that Demi has to want to be sober and drug-free. It is up to her. And appointing monitors to make sure she didn’t eat any cake or cookies and didn’t do alcohol was not a balance she could live with.

Meanwhile, friends Matthew Scott Montgomery and Sirah have been through Demi’s hell with her, suffering devastation wondering if she would make it to the next day. Now they joke that at least she is 28 years old, having made it past the curse of the 27 Club, the age at which death by overdose took Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Amy Winehouse.

The documentary is a cautionary tale for all those who start out in beauty pageants. If they, as child stars, possess the talent to parlay their success into worldwide tours at 25, the exposure can be treacherous. The overriding question becomes whether emotionally and psychically they can withstand all that the music industry siphons out of its celebrities. Lovato is back on course with her career. However, she does consider her unconscious flirtation with suicide. Importantly, she recognizes she must confront herself during the journey of reclamation and accept herself as her own best friend.

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil airs on YouTube from 23 March.

About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, playwright, novelist, poet. She owns and manages three well-established blogs: 'The Fat and the Skinny,' 'All Along the NYC Skyline' ( 'A Christian Apologists' Sonnets.' She also manages the newly established 'Carole Di Tosti's Linchpin,' which is devoted to foreign theater reviews and guest reviews. She contributed articles to Technorati (310) on various trending topics from 2011-2013. To Blogcritics she has contributed 583+ reviews, interviews on films and theater predominately. Carole Di Tosti also has reviewed NYBG exhibits and wine events. She guest writes for 'Theater Pizzazz' and has contributed to 'T2Chronicles,' 'NY Theatre Wire' and other online publications. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She professionally free-lanced for TMR and VERVE for 1 1/2 years. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely, Ph.D. Her novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Powers' will be on sale in January 2021. Her full length plays, 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics or How Maria Caught Her Vibe' are being submitted for representation and production.

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