Alanis Morissette was a transformational figure on the music scene in the 1990s, and her 1995 album Jagged Little Pill was a watershed moment in alt-rock that paved the way for other female artists. Alison Klayman’s documentary Jagged knows this, and yet there are times where it feels like the film is unwilling to pull back to see the ripple effects of Morissette’s work and personality. It’s a documentary that dives into Morissette’s pre-Jagged Little Pill life and then kind of disregards everything that came after the album’s tour. And yet Morrissette is such a thoughtful and captivating subject with an important work to share that it’s almost enough to sustain the feature.
Jagged plays out in two halves. There’s Morissette’s life pre-Jagged Little Pill where we see her as a kid actor and eventually Canadian pop princess who’s a far cry from the personality we would see in the mid-90s with the album’s release and popularity. Once the album hits, the story transforms to follow her popularity and success, as well as controversy over touring with an all-male band for such a feminist album. Throughout it all, Klayman gets direct insights from Morissette as well as her bandmates, producing partner, executives, and critics who discuss why Jagged Little Pill was such an important album and why Morissette was such a transformational force.
In its first half, Jagged is fascinating because it plays like an origin story. You learn about an industry that was more than willing to chew up and spit out Morissette like so many young female artists before her, and she instead decided to use that pain as fuel to power her songwriting. Naturally, as is always the case with the stories, no one wanted the album until a lone young executive saw its promise, and everyone was rewarded when it went to the top of the charts thanks to the success of its debut single “You Oughta Know” only to be followed by even more hits. Klayman is more than willing to play out songs from the album to linger on their lyrics and how they relate to what Morissette was growing through or how they spoke to her audience.
But in the second half, it feels like Klayman is grasping for material from a fairly benign album tour. Yes, I suppose it was a little unusual that Morissette had an all-male band and those band members were excited to sleep with any female fan with a pulse, although Morissette eventually chewed them out for their predatory behavior. There are also insightful moments where Morissette circles back to the sexual abuse she faced as a young pop star, but then the documentary will awkwardly shift gears to talk about what a great song “Ironic” is or how the media wanted to classify Morissette as an angry young woman even though most of the songs outside of “You Oughta Know” are more melancholy, hopeful, and playful. Without the chronology of Morissette’s life to guide the documentary, it feels like Klayman is topic-hopping without much rhyme or reason for why she’s arranged her documentary this way.
That’s not to say that these assorted topics don’t have merit, but the throughline of the documentary gets a bit muddled, especially when the story basically ends with Jagged Little Pill, which left me wondering about the reception and thoughts on follow-ups like Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, Under Rug Swept, and others. Or what about how her business manager stole $5 million from her and went to jail for it? Doesn’t that create some trust issues or thoughts on her success not just as a young artist but as a majorly influential one who still fell prey to a criminal? This doesn’t come up because the documentary basically jumps forward to Morissette’s latest album, Such Pretty Forks in the Road, and that’s the end of it, which is a bit of an anticlimactic conclusion even though it’s good that she’s still out there making music.
Ultimately, Jagged feels more like a celebration for Morissette’s fans and fans of Jagged Little Pill, which is fine. She and her album deserve to be celebrated. But it only goes so deep before it starts feeling like a nostalgia piece while neglecting the larger, more interesting questions posed by its subject. While those questions do get their attention in the first half of the documentary, they start to fall away in the second half and what you’re left with is just a desire to pop on Jagged Little Pill again.
Jagged will play on HBO later this fall.
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