SXSW Documentary Review: ‘Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil’

Review by James Lindorf

The opening night headliner for SXSW Online 2021 is “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil,” a new documentary about the former Disney star turned pop icon. In 2018 Demi was in the midst of her “Tell Me You Love Me World Tour” and making a documentary about that experience. After one night in July of that year, that movie was placed on a shelf where it will remain. Now three years later, Demi is back with a new film that, in its early moments, seems like the standard concert film. From pre-show cheers, practicing choreography, footage of live performances, to high-speed outfit change after outfit change, “Dancing with the Devil” lulls fans into a comfortable place with its familiarity. That sense of comfort is short-lived as Demi, her family, and friends share stories of her battles with eating disorders, depression, and addiction that led to her near-fatal overdose on July 24th, 2018.

Amid the Me Too era, the shift towards body positivity, and highlighting therapy as self-care, it is not uncommon to hear celebrities share their battles with one of these issues. With a shocking degree of openness, Lovato blows away those announcements. Not because hers is worse or that she is more deserving of our sympathy but because of the raw nature of her delivery and the sheer number of disclosures. Sexual assaults, addictions, eating disorders, years of therapy, Demi has experienced it all. She bares her soul about each one throughout the film. Not just a post on Twitter but alone in a room, the sole focus of the camera sharing her stories will leave even the most cold-hearted viewer choked up.

“Dancing with the Devil” delves deep into the darkest depths of Lovato’s rock bottom as well as her quest for a comeback. To return to music and be around for her family are the driving forces behind her current sobriety. I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone isn’t on team Demi after watching this film. Watching it in four parts may be ideal because of how shocking and tragic the stories get. Viewed as a singular piece, you start to feel the weight of the subject and the running time. It is always hard to guess what the Academy will do, especially with films released early in the year, especially in a pandemic year for a streaming service. Still, there is a strong chance we are looking at one of the five nominees for the best documentary feature at the 2022 Oscars. If they choose to ignore it, there is always a chance at an Emmy for its multi-part release on youtube.

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