In 1995, Alanis Morissette’s debut album Jagged Little Pill became an overnight sensation. Now, 25 years later, a new documentary aims to reveal the story behind one of the most influential artists of the 90s.
Jagged is the latest in a long string of music documentaries aiding as puff, PR pieces for the artists at the center, likely trying to sell cultural awareness of a new album. Plenty candid about Alanis Morissette’s bumpy rise to fame, no doubt, and a helpful guide to Zoomers who have no idea what rain is like on a wedding day. But otherwise, Jagged lacks virtually all the edge and counterculture of what connected teens and inbetweens to Alanis’s debut worldwide album, Jagged Little Pill, in 1995.
If you can get past that disappointment, however, director Alison Klayman (The Brink) presents a fine enough portrait of a fantastic performer. It’s not until late into the documentary that one of the talking heads gets to the heart of what makes Alanis such a lasting, pop culture voice. She became popular by rejecting what was already popular. She helped develop a female-centric rock genre that would kick off a whole generation of post-grunge and pop rock with credibility and waves of honest vibes. And by all accounts, she did it without selling out.
If Jagged had really clung to that narrative throughline, maybe even leaned in a bit more when it comes to Alanis’s post-Jagged career and how her music shaped future female superstars, then we might’ve ended up with a more definitive stamp on Morissette’s career. As it stands, Jagged definitely, and probably rightfully, focuses on being a 25th anniversary victory lap for one of the best albums of the 1990s. In that sense, this middling approach is an easy pill to swallow.
The early chronicling of Alanis’s early life and albums as a Canadian pop star are about as comprehensive as the attention around what she’s doing today. Klayman nicely paces these early segments so we can get to the main act, though at the same time, some of the doc’s most striking material revolves around Morissette’s experiences as a teenage star on the rise, and how her exploitation by older men would go on to inform a large amount of the energy and ferocity of her later work.
This is all aided in a big way by Alanis herself, who sits in the center of the frame, talking to us like an old friend who just never told us all the details, before. It’s easy to take for granted just how affable and down-to-earth Alanis is when presenting herself as herself. Never flinching or holding back her opinion on bandmates who let her down, for example, but never letting the fame of those days get to her head, even now. Jagged truly comes off as it appears to be: a documentary about a genuinely good person who happened to become extraordinarily famous and influential. A lot of artists should take Alanis’s advice, throughout, if they don’t want to implode at some point.
Compared to Kid90, which arguably tells a similar story with more cynicism laced in its nostalgia, Jagged lacks much of the urgency its own music tries to get across. It’s odd, but enjoyable enough to sit through entire sections of this film that simply play the music with lyrics onscreen, as if most watching this have forgotten. Perhaps that’s intentionally ironic.
This review is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.