As someone who grew up on the music of Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill, it’s safe to say I felt the documentary Jagged by Alison Klayman would likely strike a chord with me. More than just music to enjoy on a car ride in my pre-teen years, Jagged Little Pill eventually served as a form of therapy. Something I could listen to or sing along with when having a depressive spell.
Given how Jagged Little Pill became the second highest-selling album by a female artist, listeners across the globe have similarly been affected by its potency. More than just a way for Morissette to channel the angst she was feeling during the album’s composition, the songs feel like she’s singing directly to those who listen. For instance, the aptly titled “You Learn” is a reminder that making mistakes is how we grow as humans while the serene-sounding “Mary Jane” reassures us how life is hard, but we have to hold on. Because her latest single “Smiling,” a song about putting on a brave face as we soldier through life’s tribulations, feels like an unofficial COVID anthem since it was released shortly before quarantine first began, Morissette still finds ways to keep singing to us.
Through the traditional documentary format of showing talking heads, including Morissette herself, interwoven with archival footage showing Morissette’s road to stardom, Jagged provides an insightful look at the formation of an album that became a worldwide phenomenon. Additionally, with interview subjects such as Morissette’s childhood friends, Jagged offers a glimpse at her life before she migrated to Los Angeles to inadvertently change the face of rock and roll.
Since it covers as much from Morissette’s life as possible, including her early career as a teen idol in Canada, it does beg the question of what would cause Morissette to publicly disown the project. Maybe as it shows how Morissette has been able to navigate her way through a patriarchal industry, it dwells too much on the men that have surrounded her including the harsh male critics who wrote Jagged Little Pill off as “too angry” as if lead single “You Oughta Know” encompasses the album’s overall tone. Also, there’s her reckless male bandmates who she had to school for using her fame as a way to get laid during the initial album tour. It goes even further once Morissette reveals that unnamed men have made inappropriate sexual advances against her when she was 15.
Its near-over emphasis on the exploitation and difficult men Morissette has dealt with could be what led to her claiming Jagged to be “reductive” and “salacious.” Although it does continue the conversation on how women are treated in the entertainment industry, it’s understandable why Morissette would view a documentary that’s primarily meant to be a celebration of her most successful album as a form of victimization.
When Jagged gets into album celebration mode, it’s able to really thrive. Particularly, when we see Klayman’s interview with Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson. Manson diving into the shattering success of Jagged Little Pill epitomizes how influential Morissette was for female rock artists who broke through around the same time such as herself, Liz Phair, Courtney Love, and Fiona Apple. With the album selling as many records as it has, it proved that artists like Morissette were viable and that there was room for women like her to flourish and it would’ve been intriguing to hear from more of those women.
But what it all comes down to is that Jagged is a look at Morrisette’s life that is worth watching for casual fans of her music including those who’re curious about her pre-fame days. By examining the rise and pitfalls of fame that Morissette experienced, Jagged might not reinvent the music doc wheel or be in line with whichever vision that Morissette had in mind. However, when it shows how Morissette managed to stay level-headed even when experiencing how isolating fame can be, and did so by focusing on her love of the music she made, Jagged becomes an easier pill to swallow.
HBO will release Jagged on November 19.