Selena Gomez has a hit, critically-acclaimed TV series — “Only Murders in the Building” — film and TV work lined-up with her taking on producing responsibilities, and a pop music career that shows little sign of winding down as she settles into her thirty-first year on the planet, her twenty-fourth in the public eye.
She’s become a template for the way to parlay child stardom into adult fame, building a career that is the envy of most of her contemporaries.
But when she first appears on camera for “My Mind & Me,” a documentary by the director who made Madonna’s infamous “Truth or Dare” behind-the-glam film, she’s bitching about about costumes for an upcoming stage tour. She is brutally self-critical.
“Actually, I think the boobs are good,” she notes of one costume, before griping about “the booty that I don’t have” and the effort it still takes — she turned 30 in June — to “not look like a twelve year old boy.”
Being that self-critical is a hallmark of this film, made before, during after her “Revival” tour. That’s when Gomez, riding high on the charts and getting film and TV offers, achieved “everything I’ve ever wished for,” as she says in the film’s voice-over narration. “But it’s killed me.”
Depression and anxiety attacks led to the cancellation of much of the tour. Her ongoing issues with Lupus, leading to a kidney transplant, would follow. She’d announce that she’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
That turns her film into an exercise in self-help, a deep (ish) dive into her background and ongoing struggles and the entertainment industry’s huge investment in her persona, her love life and the paparazzi attention that would unnerve anyone, much less a witheringly self-critical anxious, bipolar depressive.
We follow her into interviews, glimpse a bit of her stage show, meet the assistants who remind her about medications, watch her hair and makeup “team” at work and see Gomez’s meltdowns over rehearsals. No matter how big you get, if you aren’t worried about it all going down the tubes, you won’t stay there.
The film also serves up montages of everything that bubbles through the media once that tour is canceled — TMZ “rumors,” inane TV and radio chat show appearances, incessant “Justin Bieber break-up/Justin Bieber marriage” questions, hospitalization.
The “road back” part of the story arc has her driving through her childhood neighborhood, stopping to visit neighbors she knew and recalling her meteoric rise to fame after “I booked ‘Barney (and Friends),” with snippets of “The Wizards of Waverly Place,” the breakout series that saddled her with that “f—ing DISNEY kid” label that to her has been so hard to shake.
What emerges from the film is a performer at war with looking too “young,” a grizzled showbiz veteran at 30 remembering where she came from and still selling disposable pop with a stage image that cannot shake that “too young” label despite every effort by her to sex that image up.
Selena is sharing her story and using her celebrity to push increasing access for youth mental health services, raise money for a string of righteous causes, all while maintaining her status at the top of the entertainment pyramid.
One take-away from “My Mind & Me” is how good someone famous has to be at shaking off or at least at hiding all the insecurities that dog us all, Gomez more than most.
As a journalist who has interviewed lots of these pop star/Disney/Nickelodeon creations, Gomez always struck me as more self-aware and business-savvy than most. But Amanda Bynes seemed mature for her age and probably able to handle an adulthood of lessening fame. Britney Spears always came off as disarming, sweet and naive. So you never know what they’re going through and how they’re handling it.
Anybody who covers these people and poked a head in the door at your kids watching “Wizards of Waverly Place” or “Victorious” is right to wonder just how rough all this will be on these young stars’ psyches and how easily they’ll mature and adjust to adult life, with or without ongoing stardom.
With her still-teenaged girl-growl, cherubic cheeks and sitcom training, I was tickled when Gomez landed “Only Murders,” an ensemble vehicle that played to her strengths and suggested, at least, that she’d found her way through that grownup door.
Knowing what she has to know about the shelf-life of “girl singer” pop starlets, one wonders why she’s still determined to make her mark in a field where she is, at best, just another pretty face and passable voice in the crowd. Is she worried that this is what keeps her “brand” viable?
As refreshingly direct and self-aware as Gomez can come off in the film, can she not hear how “young” she still seems and sounds and will probably always sound? Can she not see how her concert performances underscore that “teen idol” image she seems hellbent on shaking?
And as insecure as she admits she is, why is she letting herself be talked into hanging on to this corner of her business model if “it’s killed me?” It’s the only thing about this together-young-woman that seems almost self-destructive. Intentional omissions from her struggle come off as childish and petty.
That is the picture that she wants to present here. But as much sympathy as she deserves, Keshishian’s film doesn’t find nearly enough drama in Gomez’s crises to separate this musician profile doc from the many others we’ve seen about Katy Perry and a legion of others over the decades. The point of view is too narrow, the “outside” voices entirely star-approved insiders.
At least “My Mind & Me” is more ambitious and revealing than the insipid infomercials that Justin Bieber has fed the public over the years. So she’s got that going for her. But we can see and she should know that’s not enough.
Rating: R (profanity)
Cast: Selena Gomez
Credits: Directed by Alek Keshishian, scripted by Alek Keshishian and Paul Marchand. An Apple TV+ release.
Running time: 1:36