The fact that the documentary had such a prime spot in the Sundance schedule was the subject of chatter and derision on the ground in Park City, Utah. After all, this is supposed to be a festival celebrating independent film and this could arguably be seen as a piece of hagiography from one of the biggest companies in the industry starring one of the biggest pop stars of all time. But there were some wrinkles to that thinking. Wilson's work merited interest on its own. The director is best known for After Tiller, a 2013 documentary about doctors performing third trimester abortions. Perhaps Miss Americana, then, would be more insightful than your average bit of pop mythology?
At the post-screening Q&A -- where Swift's appearance was met with a standing ovation -- Wilson noted that in her initial meeting with her subject, the singer explained that she didn't like documentaries that felt like "propaganda." And yet Miss Americana is not not propaganda. It never feels out of Swift's control. It's another piece of image building, even as it is about Swift freeing herself from the confines of the image she had previously constructed.
Wilson brings the audience into the studio sessions for Swift's most recent album, Lover, the camera watching as Swift plucks hooks and lyrics seemingly out of thin air, reacting with glee as she finds the perfect one. Swift tucks chips into burritos with her producer Joel Little, and puts ice cubes into glasses of white wine with her longtime friend Abigail. The star's relationship with food becomes a touchstone later on as, eventually, Wilson sits back and lets Swift narrate her own experience with an eating disorder. From the backseat of a car, Swift details how seeing any photos of herself used to be triggering, driving her to starvation in order to achieve a perfect, modelesque look. In one section, Swift obliquely tells the story of falling in love with the actor Joe Alwyn, offering up footage he clearly captured of her in states of romantic bliss. All throughout, there are cute moments with her three cats, and goofy glimpses at her abnormal life, like when she worries about spilling food on a "Rihanna shirt."