Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil [SXSW21]

I grew up alongside Demi Lovato’s music. All my teenage years, I was her target demographic and just like many teenage girls, I listened and watched everything she did. Calling her a role model for me would be a stretch, while I can see how the fact that she was so open with her struggles could have inspired many, I never was part of that. I had my own demons to battle and never found myself relating to others that, like me, had trauma to unpack. Later in life, I would come to appreciate Lovato and her candour about her struggles, her addiction, her self-harm, etc. It was refreshing to see an artist be so open about her own demons. What we have come to know is that, maybe, we didn’t know the whole story. And Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil is probably the closest thing we will get to watch her diary. What is sure is that everything we have known about Demi and her life, she told us, but she also hid a lot from us. And now, she takes that vail away and for the first time, we get to see everything.

In 2018, Demi Lovato was found by her assistant in her room overdosed. What we don’t know is how close she truly came to actually die. What we don’t know is so much more than what we do. This documentary, while flawed with the filmmaking at times, finds a way to tell us the truth in the rawest, truthful but also a heartbreaking way. What we don’t know outweigh what we know. Celebrity documentaries aren’t new, we have seen them before and will continue to see them. But Dancing With The Devil is probably one of the most open because everyone in it decides to simply do one thing… Tell the whole truth. Even they are shocked when told to just say everything that happened, to not hide anything away. It’s so earnest that you are pulled in, you listened as they lay out what happened and you can’t help but just gasps. What you quickly realize is that Demi Lovato’s struggled were never truly under control, she even admits it. Others were controlling her, but as soon as she got the chance to control herself, everything went to an extreme she had never been before.

In 2018 before her overdose, Demi Lovato was filming a documentary about her tour. This documentary was shelved after her overdose. It took two years for Lovato to be ready to tell her story and what happened to her. Dancing With The Devil uses footage of that shelved documentary to make its point, to showcase what we are being told. It’s a great tool to have, a tool that I don’t think they use enough, abandoning it and relying a lot on its filmmaking. Sure, the subjects of the film are charismatic but at times, it isn’t enough. If it weren’t for the difficult subject that is being talked about so earnestly and the fact that this documentary is a docuseries that can be watched in multiple parts, Dancing With The Devil wouldn’t work as well.

While I don’t want to go into detail about everything that is laid out in the film about what happened that night in 2018, what led there and the aftermath, I will say that the things that are revealed about Demi and her struggle had me more than a few time saying: “That is me.” It’s interesting to see someone that is aware of her addiction but also is flawed in more than one way. She knows her flaws, admits them openly even, but sometimes, you need to make your own path. This is very much the message of this documentary. Demi Lovato doesn’t need a team of people controlling her, she needs to learn herself how to do so, how to enjoy life and live her life without fear. She says it, she will always be an addict, she just needs to learn to live with it because her whole life, while she was open about her struggles, she also was controlled into being sober. She had to be sober because her team imposed it upon her, not because she wanted to.

Where the film starts suffer when it becomes a tool to promote her new album. It’s not abnormal and should be expected. But, this truly took the documentary into something that it should have never been about. I get it, music is a large part of her life. But at the same time, this isn’t why we are here, why we are watching. Her music could be mentioned but when it became all about everyone telling us how good her new music is and how good her new album will be, this becomes nothing more than promotion. And that, that’s a shame.

Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil is difficult to watch. More than once you find yourself struggling to grapple with what is being said. How Demi truly hit rock bottom and somehow survived. How her past is much more complicated than we know. But what I appreciated was that this film wasn’t just about her. It was about her choreographer who saw her life completely derailed because fans took it upon themselves to ruin her after they saw that Demi had been partying with her that night. It’s about her family and the consequences of her addiction. It’s about her friends who she lied to so well that they had no idea she was back to her old ways. Dancing With The Devil is eye-opening, revealing that even when you think a celebrity is being open about everything, they really aren’t until they have no choice but to be.