My main takeaway from “Not Just a Girl,” a documentary on Twain, was the footage of her, long before all her later beauteousness, as a little girl with big buck teeth, singing like an angel in one of the many bars her mom used to drag her to, to help pay the bills. And then slightly later, as a teen—still with the Bugs Bunny chompers. Adorable doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Can’t Recommend Much ElseIn this day and age, the film industry knows very well how to tell and package a cracking good musician story, whether in documentary or biopic form, and so there’s really no excuse for “Not Just a Girl” to be such a lukewarm and by-the-numbers documentary. This is one of the most high-profile, premier female artists in the history of modern music we’re talking about. This is the chart-topping Canadian country music singer-songwriter who inspired future superstars like Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, and any young girl today thumbing her way toward Nashville with a guitar, a sleeping bag, and a big dream.
It’s basically just an origins-to-the-present, straight-through narrative, with some run-of-the-mill interviews, video snippets, still photography, and archival footage that skims the surface. Twain presides overall as host, speaking from various couches in her Swiss mansion, with it all looking overly photoshopped like people on social media who’ve become addicted to filters and lost touch with reality.
If there’s a musician who could be designated as having single-handedly greased the tracks from country to pop music, and “shifted culture,” according to Orville Peck, it’s Shania, in her 45-year-long career; and so a more realistic, grittier treatment would have been welcome.
Because after all, here’s a singer who grew up dirt poor, was basically shoved onstage at the age of 8, had both parents die in a car crash when she was 22, parented her younger siblings, got signed in the early 1990s, and due to unashamed, raw ambition, managed to flatten the fence between country and pop, elevate to superstardom across genres—and then became the highest selling female artist of her time.
The Odyssey: Man Takes a Boat Ride Home—The End“Not Just a Girl” is a bunch of the facts; it takes some doing to make such a potent life look so plastic and cardboard-like. The 56-year-old Twain doesn’t really invite us into her history, and the Hallmark card-like, hagiographic feel of the film is ironic, considering Twain was known for her music videos that broke the pop-and-rock monopoly over the MTV-age medium.
It touches on some potentially fascinating talking points, like her creative partnership with her producer ex-husband, and how her feminist lyrics were couched in a traditionally country music-friendly celebration of femininity, rather than a defiant, emasculating one (although that Brad Pitt line was borderline). But I don’t care if she sings “The future is female” as long as she sings it in the Cowboys jersey. I’m kidding of course. Sort of.