When Britney Spears sang, “All eyes on me in the center of the ring / Just like a circus,” she might not have realized how pervasive that attention would become. The belly-button-baring icon of the early ‘00s has spent this year publicly entangled in a legal battle with her father, who has held a conservatorship over her since 2008.
Netflix’s “Britney vs. Spears,” created by filmmaker Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu, provides a look into the legal and emotional intricacies of Spears’ fight for freedom.
The documentary begins with a montage of the pop star’s performances, ranging from singing in church as a child to performing on a world tour in front of hundreds of thousands of people. The film doesn’t spend extensive time on the story of Spears’ rise to fame or the brighter days of her career. Instead, it jumps to her infamous decline in mental health following her 2007 divorce from Kevin Federline.
This feels taunting, as Spears herself has spoken many times about the discomfort of the media attention she received at that time. Where the filmmakers could have inserted a testimony to the artist’s impressive career, they — perhaps unintentionally — just added fuel to the tabloid fire.
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While describing how invasive paparazzi attention took a toll on Spears, the documentary shares famously unflattering images and videos to a huge new audience, making one wonder if the film really had her best interests at heart.
The film’s slightly gimmicky style, unfortunately, counteracted its content a little, with an apocalyptic soundtrack, excessive camera flash effects and lots of footage of Eliscu somberly rifling through files. While the topic at hand is undoubtedly serious, this true-crime style editing evokes a school project that was taken a little too much to heart.
Nevertheless, footage of Spears in obvious distress while being hounded by paparazzi makes a harrowing impact on the viewer. Carr and Eliscu effectively addressed Spears’ struggle to maintain joy while living under a public microscope and an oppressive family regime.
The documentary defined conservatorship as “a legal process for taking somebody’s ability to make their own decisions away from them and giving them to some third party.” Interviews with former backup dancers, partners, lawyers, assistants and managers shed light on the inhumanity of her father’s dictatorship over her life.
Under this dictatorship, Spears lost jurisdiction over her own finances, children, love life, contraceptive choices and just about everything else that defines an autonomous human. One of Spears’ lawyers remarked that conservatorships are seen as “tantamount to a civil death” by some. The documentary thoroughly depicted the limitations this placed on the star’s wellbeing.
Released just days before the termination of Jamie Spears’ role as conservator of his daughter’s estate, “Britney vs. Spears” is a good place to start for anyone curious about the story—but it shouldn’t have the final word. The documentary is now available to stream on Netflix.