Editor’s Note: This review details substance abuse and assault
Demi Lovato has been a household name in entertainment ever since her teenage years. Beloved globally by adoring fans and many others who grew up watching her on Disney Channel, she has achieved so much throughout her career. But being placed on a pedestal under so much pressure from such a young age can be destructive to anyone and at just 18, she checked into rehab for the first time, becoming the poster girl for sobriety. And just over two years ago, Lovato was hospitalized following a near-fatal overdose. In this four-part docuseries, the pop star sits alongside members of her family and friends to uncover the truth of that overdose and the key life events that led to that pivotal moment.
Originally, director Michael D. Ratner began working with Lovato to document her Tell Me You Love Me Tour in 2018, which never saw the light of day. It was in the months towards the end of the tour and after where Lovato began relapsing into alcohol, drugs, and an eating disorder that led to her overdose in July of that year. After she was hospitalized, filming was halted until the decision was made to turn the story of a superstar’s tour into a brutally honest investigation of the trauma and abuse she had been subjected to. Dancing with the Devil uses classic documentary methods such as interviews and archive footage but also has short segments of minimalistic animation that recreates the more intimate events that transpired.
This series wastes no time and dives into her harsh realities within the very first few minutes. We start all the way at the beginning with Lovato sharing thoughts on her relationship with her now-deceased father who also struggled with addiction. She recounts the complications with his passing and how this contributed to her fear of dying alone as he did. From her childhood familial trauma to her MeToo story – how she was assaulted and left for dead on the night of her overdose – it’s honestly just heartbreaking to watch. But Lovato could have not been more open if she tried and knows her story will help others which is a fearlessness to be applauded. Yet as a woman, it feels so frustrating to see Lovato take full responsibility for these actions as those who manipulated and abused her over the years are currently getting away without consequence. It sheds an even brighter light on how men in this industry are protected considerably more than women and hopefully, her story will be the start of crucial change.
As well made and in-depth as this series is, it’s not an easy watch by any means purely due to the intense subject matter. Hearing the gut-wrenching details of Lovato’s time in the hospital and the methods it took to keep her alive are extremely difficult to hear. Having had several strokes, a heart attack and partial blindness, this journey of physical recovery has been anything but easy and anyone can truly empathize with that. She lets you into her personal life in unprecedented ways, including selfies depicting her trying different narcotics for the first time to hone in on just how pressing her addiction got. Having Lovato’s mother, sisters, and closest friends recount their perspective of her near-death experience makes for such raw emotion, eye-opening to just how many in her life have been affected over the years, and while Lovato is able to speak her mind, this docuseries also provides the people she holds closest a safe space to speak their own truths.
In addition to Lovato’s battle with addiction, we also spend some time with her during the first days of the COVID-19 quarantine. This is where her new boyfriend, actor Max Ehrich, moved in with her before getting engaged and then splitting up only a few months later. Perhaps the most satisfying element of this story is that it concludes in the present, where we know exactly what mindset she’s in. She opens up about feeling “too queer to be married to a man at this time” and is finally embracing her sexuality, a truly beautiful thing to watch. Just in the past few weeks, Lovato was in the news for shaving her hair off and at the very end, we get to experience this moment with her and see how it takes a literal and figurative weight off her shoulders as she finally begins to regain control. A gratifying and poetic end to this chapter of her life.
Being in the public eye to this extent proves just how much bravery has gone into the making of Dancing with the Devil. Demi Lovato and her circle are perfectly aware of just how much attention this is going to get, be it from fans, the media, or cynics. Despite Lovato not owing anyone an explanation of the events that transpired, it is evident that she is finally ready to share her side with the world as part of her ongoing recovery, and the power of this docuseries will play a part in nurturing the greater conversations around substance abuse and mental health.