Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (a documentary that made its premiere at SXSW) stands out for two very different reasons. It represents the first time we’ve gotten a deeper looking into her brush with death when the singer almost overdosed in July of 2018. The idea that Lovato is even with us is a shock after hearing the Grammy-nominated singer suffered two strokes and a heart attack simultaneously. The reverberations were far reaching and impacted so many. Secondly, and unfortunately, the film comes off as more of a PR move than any deep dive into addressing her inner demons.
While it seems that her new management, lead by Scooter Braun, so desperately wants to be her white knight, it’s her inner circle who are the true heroes. Without them, Lovato most certainly would have died that July night in 2018. The focus should not have been on how far she has come but more on what is to come. Lovato even admits that she will always be battling these inner demons. Does she truly believe that? It is hard to say. The four 20–30-minute episodes directed by Michael D. Ratner and produced by his OBB media come off way too clean and polished. Is this the story of a crack smoker or public relations campaign?
Had the focus been placed solely on the trauma Lovato went through with her addiction, the movie’s tone would have been more appropriate. Instead of spending so much time on her management or callbacks to her previous unaired documentary, perhaps they should have spent more time discussing the multiple instances where Lovato was sexually assaulted over the years. Ratner spends way too much time going from one awful revelation by Demi after another and then pivoting towards her future without addressing the present. The pressures of fame and her career ultimately lead her down this dark rabbit hole, and their solution is to gloss over these moments for the benefit of a limited audience on YouTube?
In the final episode of the docuseries Demi tries to explain how moderation management helps her battle those demons. What is a little pot and wine among friends? Lovato claims that drugs will never enter the picture, but we’ve all seen this happen once before. Elton John, who has been sober for 30 years, makes an appearance in the series discussing her admiration for Lovato but flat out says her strategy is doomed to fail. After all the therapy and help from her family and friends, Demi back at square one.
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil should have been more about how she triumphs over adversity instead of how adversity can trigger the worst in all of us. Whether it is excessive eating, drinking, drug use – or in the case of Lovato, all three were ways she coped with being in the spotlight. Seeing Scooter Braun look somber or her best friends bemoan how her habits impacted them didn’t connect as much as when we heard from an immediate family member and her therapist. That is where the true story. While what happened to Lovato was horrific, Ratner shouldn’t have told her story in such a disingenuous manner.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil will air over the course of four weeks for free on YouTube.