“I actually had anxiety around this interview…because the last time I did an interview this long, I was on cocaine.”
The first words to come out of Demi Lovato during her new documentary Simply Complicated are shocking, to say the least. They’re soaked in stinging honesty and they help to sharply set the mood for the program. This isn’t your typical high-profile inside-look into a celebrity’s life, set up to bring publicity to their upcoming project. Demi Lovato didn’t have this documentary arranged so you could watch her with legs curled on a couch, comfy clothes and very natural-looking makeup to trick you into finding her relatable and entice you to go out and buy her album. Whether she did this to spark up publicity for her album almost doesn’t even matter because she achieves something much greater than publicity with this documentary; she achieves personal freedom.
Some of the first scenes of the documentary show Demi in the recording studio belting her lungs out, hitting what to me were perfectly pitched, mind-blowing notes. Only to stop and let the producer know that she can do better. Her producer reminds her that she’s doing great and that this isn’t a perfect world. “This should be a perfect world; it’s my album,” she says. And all I can think of is that if I could hit half the notes that she just did, I’d be the world’s greatest diva. (Mariah Carey who? I don’t know her.)
Perfectionism is a force that drives Demi’s life. In this documentary, she reveals to us her battles with this character trait that is both gift and a curse to her in the most extreme sense. She’s learning to accept things as they come. Learning, as she narrates, that “secrets make you sick…that the key to being happy is to tell your truth and be okay without having all the answers.”
Demi doesn’t shy away from revealing some of her darkest most painful secrets in Simply Complicated. She takes us right into the very beginning of all her trials, from living with her alcoholic father, the pain of his abandonment, her struggle with school bullies and the first time she tried cocaine at the ripe age of seventeen. She takes that shiny, polished-up picture that Disney tried to sell, flips it and reveals to us all the murky, moldy infestation that was lying behind it all along.
She charges head-on, her expression dead serious, almost bordering on stoic, letting us know this isn’t a game to her as she reveals her darkest side to us. She speaks about a time she almost overdosed, reveals tactics of manipulation that she’d developed to use people and get what she wanted. We learn about her struggle with an eating disorder and her struggle not to berate herself when she relapses. She takes us through her revelation and the understanding that dawned on her when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. We learn that even long after having broken up with Wilmer Valderrama she still finds the courage to openly admit her enduring love for him, and adds without any hesitancy, that she’s not sure she’ll ever find someone like him again.
In Simply Complicated, Demi’s level of frankness doesn’t just paint us a picture of what her life has been like in the last twenty-five years. It’s more like she picks at a scab and shows us the fresh blood prickling underneath. It’s as if she’s on a mission to prove her humanity to us. She doesn’t have to, but she wants to.
Perhaps this is the most important point of Simply Complicated—to show us that Demi is, as she says, “learning to be a voice and not a victim.” Since having discovered that she suffers from bipolar disorder, Demi has become an avid advocate for mental illness. One of the purposes of this documentary is to show that the first step in getting better is admitting you have a problem. In hoping to help others, Demi has come to understand the importance of coming clean. It would be hypocritical of her to want to be a voice and an example to those currently struggling if she didn’t reveal her full muddied truth. Usually, what we see most of the time is the glitz and the glam of celebrity lifestyles. Demi recognizes that to be seen as more than just a “one more celebrity who dealt with some issues,” to truly be a beacon of hope and inspiration, she needs to strip herself bare. Simply Complicated is Demi standing at the high altar and speaking her gospel without embellishments or sugar coating.
The documentary takes on a lighter tone closer to its end. We begin to see a more confident Demi, a Demi who is learning every day to find a balance between achieving perfection and accepting her flaws and struggles as part of life, a Demi who is learning to enjoy a healthy life again, after having had a faulty start.
“I’m on a journey to discover what it’s like to be free of all demons,” she says and it’s probably the most relatable, most concrete confession of the entire show. It’s something that not just celebrities but us average Joes can relate to on a universal level.
Many celebrities have come out with their own documentaries about their personal lives, revealing some of their most intimate thoughts and ideas, but they can’t compare to the level of honesty in Simply Complicated. When watching other attempts at making a celebrity seem more relatable one is always left with a sense that a filter is still hanging over the lens.
It’s not just a craving for drama and gossip. Simply Complicated doesn’t come to us to scandalize. It comes as a package of what truth really looks like and, when placed in comparison to other celebrity documentaries, they dim in its light. Simply Complicated wasn’t just made to entertain and inform; it was mainly made to create a connection with its viewers, and if there’s one thing Demi Lovato understands it’s that you can’t make a connection with glossed over half-truths.