There have been so many music documentaries that have come out these past few years, like Taylor Swift, The Bee Gees, Britney Spears, Shawn Mendes, ZZ Top, Beyonce, and the list goes on. Popstar Charli XCX has just added her name to the list of music documentaries when Alone Together premiered at SXSW Film Festival, about life during the pandemic. Simultaneously, it chronicles the making of the singer’s last album but with an exciting twist that is more about her fans and their collaboration with helping her make the album. It is less about her artistic process in making the album in which she only had five weeks to make it in that usually takes a year to complete, give or take. After all, making an album takes a village, and that is what Charli XCX had with her incredible fans. Music video veterans Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler directed their first feature film in Alone Together.
Born Charlotte Emma Aitchison, British singer/songwriter Charli XCX was on top of the world before the pandemic made it all come crashing down not only for her but the world as a whole went on pause, forced to hunker down at home and social distance. For the first time since her career blew up back in 2011, she had to slow down, and it isn’t long before the insecurities that she had pushed away began to creep back in. Being stuck in a house all day will do that to social butterflies and thrive in an environment with people. The total opposite of me, I’ve enjoyed my time away from people, introvert through and through. Early on during the pandemic, Charli XCX came up with the idea of making and releasing a new album that she announced through social media. Through Zoom and social media, she would share her demos, the creation of the music, and writing the lyrics, the whole 9-yards. Her fans would even offer up suggestions of what some of her lyrics could be to help her.
She sets up several cameras in the Los Angeles home that she shares with her on-and-off-again boyfriend and two managers to record the process of her making her last album, and the directors often use lengthy video from and interviews with her fans. The film tends to jump from songwriting to demos to fans to videos and back in continuation (not necessarily in that order). It works for the project since it’s a social media-based film, but the cuts are jittery that get straight to the point loses the impact it is trying to aim. The story of how making the album How I’m Feeling Now came to be isn’t as concise as I was hoping it to be. Alone Together is more about her fans helping her out with the album than it is about the creative process of making it, but if in the film there is a buildup of how music writing is coming along, I would have expected more than what I got. There is one point in the movie when Charli XCX has only written two songs and is so far off track that she doubts that the album will be finished in time, and before I know it, she’s revealed that she indeed completed the album. It’s not too bothersome because I know that Alone Together isn’t about the process or just about her fans helping but also her struggles with depression and doubts of feeling like she isn’t pretty enough or smart enough. In moments where it embodies that to become an intimate exploration of culture in a time of isolation. In these moments, the film has an influence that extends well beyond what it tells you about one artist’s music.
I loved that the film’s idea was that it champions the notion of music as a collective way of escape, which, although not entirely abandoned, has become increasingly diluted as live performances are even less viable realistic alternatives. Unfortunately, the narrative isn’t wholly leaned into the way it seems to want to. Yes, it’s about finding a way to continue being creative in lockdown, and a rising pop star trying to re-establish herself is portrayed alongside raw and frank images of people who are struggling to deal with mental illness in a time when it is amplified. Rather than anything else, it draws on its name, meaning that, even though we are all alone and unable to gather together like we once did, we still have music as a bonding thread that we can express and explore together. We may always not be able to flood public spaces quite just yet, but the mentality will live on; after all, we have music to hold us afloat. I know music always makes me feel better, lifting my spirits as soon as the music hits my ears.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
The first album of hers that I ever listened to was True Romance that came out in 2013 that I randomly found on YouTube one day, and ever since, I have loved her music. I usually tend to stay out of my favorite musicians’ lives, so I don’t know anything about them, just their music. I don’t even follow many of the bands that I like on social media, so watching Along Together was interesting because I learned so much about who Charli XCX is. It was fun despite the chaos and jitteriness of the filmmaking. Suppose you like a delightful documentary that is different from other documentaries. In that case, this is the movie for you, but if not, then that is fine because as long as Charli XCX and her Angels (LGBTQIA following) save space for each other, then it doesn’t matter if people want to watch Alone Together.