Among the things that become apparent over the course of “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” one is that she comes off as being as lovable as you’ve imagined she is from her persona in music, television, films and philanthropic efforts. Something that comes to light right on the heels of that non-revelation is that your affection for her isn’t going to make her one bit less anxious or depressed, at least when she’s in the throes of the bipolar condition that director Alek Keshishian largely focuses on.
It’s far from the first music doc to reveal that it can be lonely at the top, but is is among the few to convey that there are no easy answers for that when mental illness is at the root — as it may be in most cases, if not usually as outrightly so as in Gomez’s. Of all the portrayals of pop superstars that have been produced in-house in recent years, “My Mind & Me” is probably the one with the least celebratory third act… which is something to celebrate. It’s not headed toward a downbeat finish, either, but the fact that the filmmakers don’t try to manufacture a way to end on a pep rally sets it apart from the wave of docs in which minor crises of conscience or even colds become easily resolved plot points on the way to a big closing stadium show.
The lion’s share of the heaviest drama is frontloaded right into the first half-hour. Gomez was an admirer of Keshishian’s 1991 Madonna doc, “Truth or Dare” and, along with her management team and new label, enlisted him to come along on her “Revival” tour to shoot what presumably was conceived as an equally warts-and-all yet ultimately happy-go-lucky piece. In what little footage from that initial attempt at a shoot makes it into the new film, the warts turn out to be just about grapefruit-sized, figuratively speaking, as Gomez turns out to be nearing the point of a nervous breakdown — or what is later described in the film as a “psychotic break.” To the naked eye, Gomez’s crying fits might look like a mixture of exhaustion and unreadiness, but the film feels like it’s barely underway when viewers find out the tour has been abruptly halted in progress and she’s been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Her already long-diagnosed lupus is, well, not the least of her problems, but one less potentially dangerous to her in the short term than thoughts of self-harm.
When the cameras turn back on again circa 2019 or 2020, Gomez seems nearly the model of successful mental health treatment and even something that seems remarkably like well-adjustedness. With about an hour left in the film, you might wonder if the rest of it is going to fall into being the glorified B-roll expansion of more typical music docs, as Gomez visits first her Texas hometown with a former classmate for a sweet series of reconnections with the locals — stopping in for an endearing meet-‘n’-greet with the entirety of her old middle school, even a visit to a housebound woman whose dollhouse once offered her succor. A visit to Kenya with reps from her charity of choice leads to heartfelt aspirations toward greater philanthropic work, even as she doubts whether she’s a good enough person to deserve to do life-saving work. You could almost call her Serene-a.
And then, unfortunately for Gomez but fortunately for a three-act structure, almost everything that could go wrong in her life does, from her health conditions to the thing that she looked to as her Prince Charming of sorts, that seemingly idyllic charity. There’s no second descent into anything that looks like psychosis, but you’ve rarely seen a star on camera who has so transparently had enough of the Hollywood rat race, to the point that she’s openly bored or prickly in interview situations — not that any of the TV reporters pressing her for quick, pithy sound bits appear to notice. This may be in-house media bias speaking, but probably the most riveting sequence in the doc is a segment when Gomez submits herself to a series of quick, banal (to put it mildly) Q&As that — forget bipolar conditions — might be enough to give even a healthy celebrity a psychotic break.
Watching the minutes tick down, an experienced music doc-watcher may wonder how there’s going to be time for a second extended treatment and climactic dance parth. Thankfully, Alek Keshishian isn’t rushing to go any such place in the final clinch; her further recovery will be a series of subtle adjustments, it’s suggested, rather than any savior in a white coat or sudden deus-ex-machine sense of redemptive self-worth. End titles that point up some of the public work Gomez has done over the last couple of years to help put mental health curriculum in schools do heighten the uplift at the close — along with the sheer intuitive feeling that Gomez’s palpable sense of empathy for others will extend to herself as she marches forward.
There are holes in the movie, just about all of them deliberate paths of avoidance that don’t take too much away from a narrative that focuses pretty tightly on her mental health and not career turns or romance. The answer to the question of whether anything involving former paramour Justin Bieber will be addressed in the film is: not much. He’s invoked only as a query repeatedly shouted by paparazzi, which is probably mostly for the best, although it’s not being overly gossip-prone to wonder how a breakup that did occur during this time period factored into her health. (“Ultimately it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says, seemingly about that split, and then the movie coyly leaves it at that.) You may also long to hear more about the kidney transplant that predated initial filming by a couple years… or more about her even more distant past as a Disney princess, although maybe the couple of times it comes up say enough. (In the last act, going through a bad spell, Gomez objects to an outfit by saying, “It made me feel like Disney. I fuckin’ look like a witch with the outfit doing the wand again.”)
It’s not just negatives the movie avoids, though: Her whole acting comeback triumph with “Only Murders in the Building” gets nary a mention, even in the flash-forward end titles — that’s how eager the film is not to present too happy an ending, or just keep Gomez’s struggles relatable to similarly troubled young viewers with fewer golden parachutes.
Gomez comes off as a deeply serious, intentionally minded person — the kind pop music could use a lot more of — but one with just enough of a sparing sense of dark humor to hear sirens in the distance, when her path gets clearer near the end, and joke, “There’s my ride.” Everything about “My Mind & Me” is likely to create further endearment, even the sticky parts… maybe especially the sticky parts, when it’s not just the mental health issues causing her to act like she’s reached her limit. The further affection of a nation of Selena stans is not remotely what’s going to keep her grounded, but fortunately, she didn’t have to lose us to love herself.
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