When Netflix released the trailer for their documentary on Britney Spears, titled Britney vs Spears, which premiered on the streaming giant yesterday, hopes were high. We were all anticipating the brutal truths that would be exposed by Erin Lee Carr, a fan and filmmaker well-known for her scathing documentaries. However, the product is equal parts forgettable and disappointing. Here’s why.
Britney Spears, a pop icon and a household name, has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy for the longest time. From fans starting the #FreeBritney campaign to protest against the illegal control over the pop star to the icon finally opening about the brutal emotional and physical abuse inflicted on her by her apparent well-wishers — the subject has always been quite sensitive and delicate, something the documentaries always fail to understand.
Various documentaries have been made that serve as an expose of the real story behind her conservatorship. From Controlling Brintey Spears to Framing Britney Spears, the filmmakers seem to be capitalising on the name of the pop star itself to put absolutely anything across the table. These documentaries usually detail her personal and business affairs while bringing to the fore the bitter truth regarding the conservatorship and the rocky relationship she shares with her father and the media team.
While some of the documentaries try to be sensitive, they are incredibly toxic to the subject more often than not. However, the Carr-directed documentary tends to be a little more sympathetic to the star herself. It is a continuation of Framing Britney Spears but does not stick to the conventional chronological mode of storytelling. Besides glossing over her divorce and other relationships, the documentary also sees conversations with certain dubious figures from Spears’ past, including the former paparazzo-turned-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib and ex-manager and “friend sometimes”, Sam Lufti.
The documentary shows Carr joined by her friend and journalist Jenny Eliscu as they investigate the life of Spears. With ominous music highlighting the dark undertones of the discoveries that involve various medical reports about her mental health state as well as Spears’ controversy regarding the consumption of stimulants during performances or while being a judge on the US X Factor.
However, Carr is seemingly very cautious about what she is doing. There is not much to add to the documentary as almost all of it is known. She is vague and ambiguous, leaving the viewers in an amorphous haze where the meaning and conclusion is something that the audience members have to chase blindfolded, often arriving at wrong, misguided conclusions. Seeing Eliscu and Spears treat the whole investigation as a somewhat crime documentary instead of arriving at a definitive conclusion is quite cumbersome since not much attention is paid to what the star has to say about her predicament. What the documentary needed was an analytical lens and a nuanced execution of the explosive case.
We know that nothing sells better than portraying a woman’s life placed under the oppressive shackles of patriarchy. However, devoid of agency, perhaps, filmmakers could try finding a new subject for once and stop traumatising the star who has already been through a lot and does not need another intrusive documentary to comment on her life!