Alanis Morissette can’t seem to help but inspire, and “Jagged,” the documentary she’s since disowned, won’t have too many answers on just what makes such a truly singular artist tick.
The interesting thing is how little “Jagged” seems to want to explore this. It’s understandable, since Morissette’s trajectory will always have a tinge of destiny in the hindsight of her now iconic status. As a preteen, she was already appearing on TV, writing songs, releasing an album, and was on her way to becoming a pop princess shortly thereafter. Her ensuing superstardom practically seems like a natural state.
If director Alison Klayman is uninterested in exploring how Morissette became…well, Morissette, she’s fascinated by how she almost never was. Klayman has been open about the fact that she made “Jagged” not just as a filmmaker, but as a fan girl, revealing that Jagged Little Pill was the first CD she ever bought. And this documentary is in a sense a tribute to that period in Morissette’s life, which did indeed seem to have set the tone for much of what followed.
Any female artist who succeeds on a large scale is bound to break at least a few boundaries, but Alanis broke more than most. Like many of her peers, she put in the work but likewise benefitted from a whole lot of luck, coming onto the scene at the right place and time, when alternative artists ruled. If it was rare for a new artist to have so many hits off a debut album like Alanis did with Jagged, it was even rarer for women to do what Alanis somehow managed to do, which was be so raw and honest, and especially, one thing women are never supposed to be: emotional.
The majority of (male) reviewers may not have been able to see past the fact that it was a woman who was bringing so much attitude without an apology or much regard for their opinion, but the fans she quickly gathered didn’t mind. To watch the concert footage of the Jagged tour during the 90s isn’t just to hear girls screaming like they’re watching a favorite boy band, it’s to see the men in the audience rocking out just as hard.
Alanis herself, who worked closely with Klayman during filming, has the kind of zen perspective and soundbite-friendly quotes documentaries swoon for as she muses on how Jagged was made, then rejected by practically every record company in existence before it found a home and subsequent success. And how, despite it all, she still felt she had to remain silent about some of the exploitation she experienced. “Women don’t wait. The culture doesn’t listen,” she says as she recounts how she was immediately shamed into silence at any hint of victimization.
So what exactly was Morissette objecting to? Could it be the spotlight on the behavior of her male band mates, whose debauchery was a heartbreaking contradiction to the values she was trying to promote? Perhaps just her vulnerability in general, which anchors a somewhat shallow examination of a specific period of her life that ends shortly after the Jagged tour was finished? As of this review, she hasn’t shared the full details. But to do full justice to her remarkable life, Klayman would’ve probably had to make a series rather than a film. As it is, it’s a fun, sometimes heartbreaking examination of a life lived more uniquely than most.