If you were alive in the 90s, you probably had a copy of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. If you didn’t, were you really even living? It won album of the year in 1995, was the third biggest selling album of the 90s, and remains on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Albums of All Time, deservedly. It was a real departure of the time, didn’t fit into what the music industry expected from a young woman. But to the young women listening, it was the vocalization of what we’d all felt. When I first heard You Oughta Know, I related and responded to the aggression and anger in her voice, and sang along even though I was still a kid, had never “been down on” anyone in a theatre or elsewhere, but I knew the sentiment, I understood where she was coming from because I’d either been there myself or was about to be. (Male) critics of the time focused on her anger, baffled that a woman went through more than just tears and ice cream during breakups, but fans listening to the album heard a great diversity of sound and content, almost every song an anthem to someone. (Male) critics balked again when Ironic came out, more concerned with exact definitions than what the song meant, why it was beloved, why it was important enough to become her biggest single on an amazing album.
Director Alison Klayman interviews Alanis extensively, and hears from others in her entourage as well, including Taylor Hawkins, then her touring drummer, presently of Foo Fighters, who admits to using her fame to attract girls, somewhat antithetical to Morissette’s whole vibe. And Glen Ballard, her Jagged Little Pill producer and writing partner, who is still her biggest fan, still enamoured of her talent, of her turn of phrase. Generous, humble, and most surprisingly, non-jealous, here is one man who clearly always respected her as a writer, musician, and star. Shirley Manson, frontwoman of Garbage, talked about how many doors Alanis opened as a successful female singer-songwriter, without taking any credit for herself being a rebellious frontwoman force in the 90s. But mostly we hear from Alanis herself, who tells her origin story, how it felt to find fame and success as a teenager, what her writing process was like, what it was like to tour the world without actually seeing any of it. And finally, she opens up just a little about some of the rumours inspired by those famous lyrics – the bad boyfriends, the sexual abuse, the non-existent childhood.
I enjoyed the documentary because I enjoyed Jagged Little Pill, and revisiting it is to revisit my own childhood in some ways. Klayman told us not to be shy about singing along, not tht I ever would be. I should be ashamed with a voice like mine, yet I usually find an unforgivably high volume at which to shout the words (more or less). I had a sore throat the day this screened for TIFF, which felt like good news for anyone watching with me, but by the time we reached You Oughta Know, I’d already resolved to buy lozenges. Try and stop me!
Well, I’ll tell you what stopped me in the end. It was Alanis herself, who, following the film’s world premiere at TIFF, has said she’s unhappy with the film, called it ‘salacious,’ denied it was the story they’d agreed to, and refused to support it.
“I sit here now experiencing the full impact of having trusted someone who did not warrant being trusted. Not unlike many ‘stories’ and unauthorized biographies out there over the years, this one includes implications and facts that are simply not true. While there is beauty and some elements of accuracy in this/my story to be sure— I ultimately won’t be supporting someone else’s reductive take on a story much too nuanced for them to ever grasp or tell.” – Alanis Morissette
Ultimately, this is her story, and she deserves to have agency over how it is told. I respect her position and I will not be recommending this film.
Jagged is an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival 2021.