Demi Lovato’s new documentary, Simply Complicated, opens with her sitting on a couch, legs drawn up to her chest, with the interviewer asking “How are you feeling?” Demi admits that she has a lot of anxiety surrounding the interview she’s about to start. When asked why, she reveals “The last time I did an interview this long I was on cocaine. It was called Staying Strong.”
Staying Strong is a reference to Demi’s 2012 MTV documentary, released during the same era as her 2011 album, Unbroken, which marked a notable moment in her career. On the album, Demi, fresh from her first stay in rehab, famously returned to the spotlight with her single, “Skyscraper.”
For long time Demi Lovato fans, the release of her new documentary Simply Complicated was highly anticipated. Like many other fans, I was anxious to hear a fresh take on her highly-publicized story. What would Demi say about her addictions? Her eating disorder? Her past filled with drugs, alcohol, and bullying? At its core, Simply Complicated is a portrait of an artist on her own terms, and represented with visceral honesty.
Here’s why you need to watch it:
She outlines the relationship between her upbringing, early career, and substance abuse
Demi takes us through her life story from its very beginning. She describes a childhood filled with beauty pageants and stints on shows like Barney, paralleled with the presence of an abusive father, and a perfectionist mother. In the midst of hardship lived Demi’s undeniable talent, thrusting her into stardom via Disney’s uber-successful TV movie Camp Rock. Overnight, Demi went from a complicated teen to a singer, actor, and role model.
Simply Complicated shows us the darkness beneath her rise to superstardom. Multiple members of Demi’s life, from her manager Phil McIntyre to Nick Jonas, describe the ongoing challenges of Demi’s behind-the-scenes addiction. From the perspective of those closest to her, we get a picture of someone who was manipulative, angry, and prone to violent outbursts. Demi describes how she snuck cocaine onto planes, and went on benders where she used every day. McIntyre described a teen star who was depressed and irritable, sleeping most of the day. Nick Jonas even admits that he felt a “sick sense of pride” in being Demi’s confident in her darkest times because he thought he could bring the old Demi back.
In most celebrity narratives like this, there is often a famous breaking point that head-starts the road to recovery. Simply Complicated recounts Demi’s infamous break down, describing the moment where she punched one of her backup dancers in the face after they revealed she was drinking underage and using Adderall. This initial violent outburst ultimately lead to her first stint in rehab and for most fans, this was Demi’s “first step” towards sobriety. However, despite the public narrative, Demi would continue to use. As she toured the world, speaking about overcoming addiction, she was still an active drug user.
She resists the “Before” and “After” approach to rehabilitation
Hollywood is great at attempting to craft perfect narratives out of complicated lives. The whole idea of celebrity relies on our interest in their stories, the paths they take, and the drama they deal with. In these circumstances, it would be easy to boil down the experiences of addiction and recovery into a series of “before” and “afters.” Demi’s story refuses to conform to such a linear progression. For most, it’s easier to think of the Demi who used drugs as being different from the Demi who is living sober today. This mentality is exactly what her 2012 documentary Staying Strong was a response to: what happens in the aftermath of a breaking point, when addiction is supposedly overcome.
She shows us her ugly truth, her relapses, and her fears. We get to see an artist who is replacing a perfect narrative with an authentic one.
With Simply Complicated, fans don’t find the after they expect. If anything, the film triumphs because it shows us there’s no such thing. Demi’s story teaches us that healing doesn’t end after a certain amount of time. It’s an ongoing process.
Healing is an ongoing process
There’s no world where Demi Lovato is no longer an addict. Simply Complicated explains how like most people who suffer from addiction, her recovery will be a lifelong process, and that’s completely okay. It showcases that her recovery is filled with ups and downs. In the film, we see an artist who is refreshingly vulnerable, sharing with the audience the struggles she continues to face. We get to see a multi-faceted person; a Demi who is proud of her sobriety, but is also comfortable admitting to an eating disorder relapse after splitting with her longtime boyfriend Wilmer Valderamma.
It’s important to underscore that Demi’s relapse doesn’t suddenly make her a bad person, or tarnish her reputation. What it does is reveal that she, like everyone else in the world, is a complicated summation of her collective experience and is continually growing. She is not once an addict, and now sober. She is more than a simplified hollywood headline: she is a normal, real person.
It can become easy to look at stars like Demi and see their sobriety as a straightforward victory. Simply Complicated continually reworks that narrative. She shows us her ugly truth, her relapses, and her fears. We get to see an artist who is replacing a perfect narrative with an authentic one. What I took away from the documentary is that maybe people who suffer from addiction never “get better.” But they can, sometimes with great personal effort, change the direction of their lives. That’s complicated to understand. But it is the truth.