Britney Vs Spears may be well-intentioned, yet it feels no different from the star's extensive tabloid coverage in the aughts.
Poster for Britney Vs Spears | Netflix
Synopsis: Right on the heels of Britney Spears’ conservatorship hearing, arrived this Netflix documentary, an investigation into how the legal system failed to protect her interests.
Review: Spears and her controversial conservatorship has dominated headlines, inspired documentaries, and the #FreeBritney movement that had fans actively petition for her emancipation. On 30 September, in a win for both fans and the singer, the court removed her father Jamie Spears as conservator of her $60 million estate. This also means that the court may soon relinquish all control back into her hands.
The Netflix documentary has filmmaker Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu trace the history of the conservatorship — initially a temporary arrangement — that incapacitated Spears’ agency. Both of them have had a connection with the star in one way or the other. Carr has idolised Spears since she was a child, while Eliscu has written several news stories featuring the singer, and had even tried to help her find a new lawyer in the nascency of the conservatorship.
The documentary has avoided using paparazzi shots — circulated and viewed by probably half the world — of Spears having a public breakdown. That’s something the synopsis released by Netflix expressly impresses upon, and it’s the only point of clemency in the entire film. It’s not a stretch to say that the supposed new information with interviews of people who were once close to Spears, excerpts from confidential documents and private correspondence is another hit to the singer’s privacy.
Sure, Spears’ harsh conservatorship is infuriating. It’s also relevant in the larger scheme of things and has propelled discussion on the broken justice system in the US. But it increasingly feels like Spears just wants to be left alone. She said it herself in a recent Instagram post. “I really try to disassociate myself from the drama,” she wrote.
So, how is this new wave of documenting and retelling her story any different from the media frenzy that followed her in the aughts?
Britney Vs Spears does not add anything new to the existing narrative, but it sure does make a spectacle of the controversy. It lacks the nuance and sensitivity that the previous explorations have at least tried to uphold. Often Carr and Eliscu seize screen time as the camera finds them examining a court document or reading from a computer. Who is on the forefront? Them or Spears' story?
Additionally, the overall tone of the documentary is reminiscent of the fluff content you’d find on YouTube or one of those made-for-TV true crime movies that only air late in the night. Basically something you’d play in the background to fill the silence in your room. Nothing special. The jarring, dramatic score doesn’t help the storytelling either.
Among the many people interviewed are former paparazzo/ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib and Sam Lutfi, whose involvement with Spears was always quite obscure. Lutfi’s testimony is unhelpful, it only seems like he’s there to clear his name years after he was accused of drugging the singer. Though Ghalib elucidates on how isolated and helpless Spears was, him sharing their text messages only feels uncomfortable. While cinematographer and old friend Andrew Gallery sharing a letter allegedly written by Spears in response to People magazine’s cover story on Kevin Federline is startling, it also shows how he just watched her crash and burn. These are just shock tactics that make the treatment of the topic no different from Spears’ tabloid coverage.
Verdict: Britney Vs Spears is not offensive, neither is it very agreeable.