Olivia Rodrigo’s album documentary lacks integral moments

Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan, Flickr.

The past year has been a whirlwind for singer and actress Olivia Rodrigo with two No.1 singles, a No.1 album, seven Grammy nominations and an upcoming sold-out headline tour. Now added to her repertoire of achievements is a film, “Olivia Rodrigo: driving home 2 u (a SOUR film),” which was released exclusively on Disney+ on March 25. 

Within the film, Rodrigo embarks on a road trip from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, showcasing the places along the route where she wrote the songs for her debut album “SOUR” and reflecting on the songwriting experience. Dispersed throughout the film are clips of her final production sessions for the album with producer Dan Nigro, showing an intimate look into the finishing of the album.

The majority of the film was made up of performances and small music videos. Rodrigo went from singing in a near-empty house for the first song “happier” to strumming a guitar in a moving car for “déjà vu” to dancing on a Malibu beach and swimming in the ocean for “hope ur ok.” Each performance was presented in the order Rodrigo wrote the songs. This allowed the audience to follow along and gain an understanding of her emotional journey of writing this album. 

The performances in the film were the real highlight, which is most likely what director Stacey Lee intended. With the beautiful backdrops of the looming Rocky Mountains in Salt Lake City, the arid deserts of Arizona and the sandy beaches of California, the songs were creatively arranged to make them fresh.

“good 4 u,” which is typically an upbeat punk-inspired breakup anthem, was backed by a string orchestra instead. Rodrigo used a synthesizer to create all the sounds and melodies herself for the ballad “traitor” while she sat in a gas station parking lot. 

Rather than including a new performance of Rodrigo’s debut single and biggest hit, “drivers license,” a montage was shown of Rodrigo’s various performances as her stardom grew, starting with her writing the song in her bedroom and then cutting to her singing in more impressive settings, such as at the 2021 BRIT Awards and the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Festival.

The beauty and aesthetics were the strengths of the film, and ultimately all that stood out to me. The documentary part that tracked the road trip and Rodrigo’s process of making “SOUR” fell flat. Watching Rodrigo and Nigro create the melody of “brutal” in under a minute and create the entire song on a whim five days before the track list was due was compelling, but I wish more clips like that had been included. I wish the film had provided a deeper look into the entire creative process behind the album, rather than just the tail-end. 

However, that may not be the fault of Rodrigo or Lee. Rather, the project was conceived too late into the process of making the album to capture everything. After all, Rodrigo started writing these songs long before “drivers license” blew up and long before anyone thought a film about Rodrigo’s debut album would be anything of interest. 

Perhaps making this film less than a year after Rodrigo’s debut did not allow her or the creative team the space to fully capture something unique. This film was released before Rodrigo has even gone on her first tour, and tour footage seems to be a staple in other singers’ documentaries, like Billie Eilish’s or Shawn Mendes’.

“Coming from this place of hurt and devastation and you manage to turn it into something that you’re proud of, there’s nothing better than that,” Rodrigo said in the film, a sentiment that she repeated many times throughout. But it did not go much deeper than that. 

The film could have resonated more if there was more insight into Rodrigo’s sad and messy emotions while she was experiencing them, instead of polished reflections with her dressed in cool outfits and a full face of makeup after the fact. What we got was a film that was fun to watch but felt overproduced, causing it to lose some authenticity.

 

3/5 stars

 

rgatherc@ramapo.edu