TIFF: 'Jagged' Smoothes Over Alanis Morissette's Fascinating Story Directed by Alison Klayman

Starring Alanis Morissette, Taylor Hawkins, Kevin Smith, Glen Ballard
TIFF: 'Jagged' Smoothes Over Alanis Morissette's Fascinating Story Directed by Alison Klayman
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Jagged seeps into your veins, and as it courses through you gaining speed, it enlivens your spirit — much in the way that "You Oughta Know" does, eventually bringing you to a scream-singing catharsis. It gets the blood going, but whether it gets you thinking is questionable. It doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to documentary filmmaking, but is a trove of information about the making of a classic album. That being said, it's strange that this film's revelations — about the sexism and abuse Alanis Morissette faced as a teenager in the music industry — are often couched in saccharine optimism and smiles.

Directed by Alison Klayman, Jagged looks at the making of Alanis Morissette's career origins and the making of her third studio album, 1995's Jagged Little Pill.  As Morissette talks, she smiles big with unbridled happiness and pride in what she's accomplished, while speaking with a world-weary knowingness about the misogyny she experienced both from critics in the '90s and at the hands of men within the industry. Klayman supports Morissette's words with interviews with bandmate, journalists, producers and friends, effectively allowing for a raw, contextualized image of the musician to emerge. The result is a powerful story of a resilient woman who is unabashedly herself, and who doesn't let others' opinions keep her from creating. 

This, of course, is only part of the story. Morissette, despite putting on a strong front, was suffering greatly, and Klayman is not fully able to tap into a vulnerability with the musician, even when Jagged does tackle darker subject matter. The level of optimism and sunniness that marks this documentary is jarring in light of not only of the documentary's own revelations of assault and exploitation, but also Morissette's own criticisms of the documentary

For example, there is mention of a backstage room that Morissette's bandmates would hand out passes for. Women dying to meet Morissette would be led into these rooms where they apparently met only the male band members; as the bandmates describe this arrangement, a frame shows a man going into the room. The obvious implication is left to the imagination. The band members seem embarrassed about this, and they acknowledge its hypocrisy in face of Morissette's message of empowerment — but they say all this in a flippant way, laughing. All Morissette says of this is she was livid when she found out but felt powerless in face of a diseased touring culture. 

The doc hints at the darkness and misogyny of the music industry, but seems apprehensive about interrogating it or Morissette — when she talks about her own experiences with abusive men, it's brief and cursory. Klayman doesn't dive into these matters with follow-up questions, hence the sunny tone of the entire film. Jagged is an entertaining watch — just don't expect it to be incisive. If anything, this pill is lumpy, not razor-sharp.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (HBO)