[SXSW 2021] DEMI LOVATO: DANCING WITH THE DEVIL -- A Nuanced and Harrowing Documentary About Addiction
Review by Sean Boelman
The tragic struggles of Disney child star turned pop icon Demi Lovato got a lot of media coverage when she was having her darkest moments, but there is a lot more to her story. Offering the musician an opportunity to reclaim the narrative, the documentary Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is an intimate and harrowing exploration of addiction.
In the series, Lovato and those close to her discuss the factors that led to her near-fatal overdose and the lessons she learned from her experiences. This is not a music documentary in the classical sense in that it is almost entirely about Lovato’s addiction and recovery and barely about her music.
Split into four episodes, the series clocks in at right around an hour and forty minutes in total runtime. On one hand, it feels like a very comprehensive exploration of Lovato’s experience, both from her perspective and those of others with personal knowledge of her situation, but it’s organized in a way that is uneven and frustrating.
The series really does an excellent job of discussing the catastrophic impact that addiction can have, both on the addict and everyone around them. It helps that Lovato seems to be being very upfront and honest about the things that she went through, making it something really groundbreaking in how it approaches the subject.
Obviously, fans will immediately identify with Lovato, and they are likely to make up a majority of the viewership of the series, but the series also does an excellent job of exploring what makes Lovato’s story so heartbreaking. There are a lot of distressing revelations made in the series that people may not have realized had been a factor in her life.
The series is at its best when it allows Lovato to speak freely and discuss what she has been through and how she has grown. Other portions of the series feature interviews with Lovato’s friends and colleagues, discussing how they were affected by Lovato’s overdose and what they are doing to help her overcome her addiction.
It’s a competent series on a technical level, although there are definitely some things that could have been done better. The use of arrangements of Lovato’s music in the soundtrack is understandable and expected, and while it does achieve the intended emotional effect, it also feels somewhat melodramatic.
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is a strong documentary series that is worth watching, even for those who may not be fans of the musician. It’s one of the most nuanced and empathetic takes on addiction to grace the screen in quite a while.
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil screened as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which ran March 16-20.