2021 SXSW Film Festival Review ‘Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil’ in its World Premiere

Demi Lovato in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner, World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

What takes Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil beyond the interest of pop music fandom is its unabashed honesty without pandering to sensationalism. Directed and cobbled together with interviews of friends and family, Ratner creates a film which succeeds as an intense biopic of Lovato’s addiction crisis. With input from icons like Elton John, Christina Aguilera, and work colleagues like Will Farrell, Ratner shows a women in revolution and evolution. Assuredly, covering all bases the filmmaker grills her creative team, rehab coach, trainers, new manager Scooter Braun. Then Ratner blows up the celebrity image and brand to shatter the Lovato myths. If teens follow her as a role model and advocate for mental health, eating disorders and sobriety, Lovato’s revelations take her mission to a new level of relevance.

Demi Lovato in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

The film hits it out of the park by showing Lovato’s pathos in picaresque. Ratner divides the action in four, non-linear, acutely edited segments. And in a heightened alert, he begins with the months in 2018 when it all went wrong. Of course during the course of the film the full poignancy is that Lovato affirms it had gone wrong for a long time. However, she, her friends, family and team had bought into the “devil’s dance” that obsessive control answered her internal problems. Thus, her determination and teamwork convinced her that as long as she stayed slender and sober, she remained healthy. Sadly, she fooled everyone, especially herself. Her choices belied her ability to handle deep-rooted emotional and psychological issues. Past trauma whether conscious or unconscious bled into the present and tortured her.

Demi Lovato in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

Distress intensified to overwhelm Lovato with misery and the need to self-medicate. As these internal pressures pushed her to open the floodgates, Lovato suffered a drug relapse. Each of Ratner’s segments touch upon her addictive OCD personality. The documentary’s overarching themes about the fatal flaws that come with celebrity deification crash into the human factor. Inevitably, Lovato believed her own BS. Vulnerable, her unresolved life and death problems infiltrated her daily struggles.

Friend Sir Elton John in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Friend Sir Elton John in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

Ratner selects various clips of Lovato commentary. In the more salient ones she discusses how she lived on the edge seeking destruction in secret silence, despite being surrounded by loving individuals. Examples abound. Lovato’s discusses regrets about her father’s ignoble drug death alone, his body found decomposing. And she relates that she never worked through sexual traumas (a rape by a co-celebrity, etc.). Though the “me” aspect of the documentary sometimes slogs from “reveal” to “reveal” without variation, Ratner keeps Lovato’s story uplifting. In the final analysis Lovato moves to summarize what she’s learned. And we find comfort in empathizing with her journey into a hell of her own making to emerge into healing.

Friend Sir Elton John in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Friend Sir Elton John in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

Ratner nearly completed an earlier a documentary on Lovato in 2018. Filmmakers employ the footage of the earlier film to compare Lovato’s state of mind. As highlights of her Tell Me That You Love Me World Tour shine the shimmering Lovato, current footage reveals the truth of her condition during that time. Especially after her overdose, the filmmaker contrasts her promises and affirmations against her current truthful revelations. Even in this age of lying her statements shock. So many of her statements resound as obfuscations as she points out her hidden misery, pain and anger. Amidst this backdrop of illusions about being well when actually heading forward on a collusion course, her voice sounds incredible. Ratner includes a sound clip of her mother Dianna De La Gaza in June 2018, one month before Demi’s overdose. De La Gaza tells Demi, her voice is “the best ever.” At the height of her talents, death comes knocking and nearly takes her.

Demi Lovato's new syle in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi Lovato in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

During the tour Lovato fronted all the positives to maintain the good girl sobriety image. She fooled those closest to her. But the tour documentary of 2018 never got off the ground with the exception of salvage clips. Instead Ratner and Lovato split open her guts and set the record straight bravely and boldly in Dancing With The Devil. Lovato confesses she did drugs unbeknownst to her friends and team. After celebrating her choreographer Dani Vitale’s birthday, Demi called a drug dealer. Early morning, when none of her friends or team were around, Lovato sabotaged herself, her life, her career, her self-love and her agency. She overdosed on a mega combination of crack cocaine, heroin and OxyContin laced with Fentanyl. These she chased with alcohol. Meanwhile, she remembered later that the drug dealer had non consensual sex with her and abandoned her. Ten more minutes from discovery, she would have died.

A room in Demi Lovato's new digs in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
A room in Demi Lovato’s new digs in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

In this first part of the four part series, we understand how driven and obsessed Lovato pushed her beyond her limit for wellness. Ironically, her abstemiousness actually fueled her desire to jump off the merry-go-round of sobriety. Ratner even includes the physician who saved her life. And he discusses just how miraculous her recovery was, but not without costs. Lovato’s overdose caused brain damage: she had a heart attack and three strokes. And the twenty-four hour period after she was found by an assistant was touch and go with her fans, family and friends praying for her.

Sobriety friend Sirah in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Sobriety friend Sirah in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

Now, she is able to laugh with friends. But the film is also revelation to fans that Dani Vitale who fans blamed for Demi’s overdose was wrongfully blamed. Vitale received death threats and lost her career, teaching jobs and everything that was meaningful to her because of the rumors she had given Lovato the drugs. A lie. So in setting the record straight, those who worked for Lovato and her new manager like Scooter Braun also go on record to do right by her after this incident.

Christina Aguilera in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

However, from her sisters Madison and Dallas, her mother Dianna and her step father as well as her friends, all agree Demi has to want to be sober and drug free. It is up to her. And appointing monitors to make sure she didn’t eat any cake or cookies and didn’t do alcohol was not a balance she could live with. Indeed, it sent her in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, friends Matthew Scott Montgomery and Sirah have been through Demi’s hell with her, suffering their devastation wondering if she would make it to the next day. Now they joke that at least she is 28; she made it past the curse of the twenty-seven year olds of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Amy Winehouse.

Demi's parents, the De La Garzas in 'Dancing With The Devil,' directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)
Demi’s parents, the De La Garzas in ‘Dancing With The Devil,’ directed by Michael D. Ratner in its World Premiere at SXSW FF (courtesy of the film)

The documentary is a cautionary tale for all those who start out in beauty pageants. If they as child stars possess the talent to parlay their success to accomplish world wide tours at twenty-five, the exposure can be treacherous. The overriding question becomes emotionally and psychically can they withstand all that the music industry siphons out of its celebrities? Lovato is back on course with her career. However, she considers her unconscious flirtation with suicide. Importantly, she recognizes she must confront herself during the journey of reclamation and accept herself as her own best friend.

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil airs on YouTube from 23 March.

About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1800 articles, reviews, sonnets and other online writings. Carole Di Tosti writes for Blogcritics.com, Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites. Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years. Some of the articles are archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NYC, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF, Athena FF. She also covers SXSW film. Carole Di Tosti's novel 'Peregrine: The Ceremony of Power,' is being released in November-December. Her two-act plays 'Edgar,' 'The Painter on His Way to Work,' and 'Pandemics' in the process of being submitted for representation and production.

Posted on March 23, 2021, in Film Festival Screenings, Film Reviews, SXSW, SXSW FILM FESTIVAL and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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