“Lewis Capaldi: How I Feel Now” documentary review on Netflix
The British hitmaker isn’t afraid to dig deep, but Joe Pearlman’s documentary doesn’t embrace the same level of honesty.
About halfway through Joe Pearlman’s “Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now,” Scottish pop star Joe Pearlman begins work on his second album. As he walks us through his songwriting process, he just winks at the camera before going through the same thing in other music documentaries: he writes the song, meows when it becomes a hit, and suddenly we jump forward to a year later, when he’s playing his now-huge hit to a sold-out crowd. Capaldi waits a beat. So is the movie. Oh, don’t you have to push ahead to the inevitable success? If! Back to the madness, this is it.
It’s one of many self-referential moments in a movie full of them, a life it’s full of them, as Capaldi’s incredible self-awareness (about his pop stardom, the pressures of the music business, his declining mental and physical health) appeals even to those unfamiliar with his work. Capaldi gets it’s what makes Pearlman’s Netflix film at first satisfying, then ultimately distressing, and the filmmaker ultimately choosing to embrace the very tropes his subject is likely to be mocking. Capaldi doesn’t like neat and tidy endings, so it’s a shame this too-glossy documentary does.
Pearlman’s film takes its title from the Capaldi song of the same name, one of the tracks on the star’s highly anticipated sophomore album, due out later this year. The sample’s lyrics are a strong indication of what’s to come: “So here’s my beautiful life / I seem to be so unhappy / I ain’t got no sense of self I’m self-obsessed / I’m always in my fucking head.” Pearlman opens the film in exciting territory: Capaldi, a pop star also known for his incredible humor (watch his video for “Forget Me”.), tells an interviewer that the success only made him more insecure.
Record scratch? We’re soon thrown back to Capaldi’s early days of fame as he tells us all about what it’s like now that he’s a ‘celeb’. Capaldi’s musical flair, combined with his energetic social media videos, have sent him to the top of the charts and earned him a huge following. (Honestly, anyone who sings as well as Capaldi and (The “Scottish Beyonce” jokes are clearly on the rise.)
But something lurks, even in those happy early days. Look closely and you’ll see the physical manifestation of Capaldi’s mental anguish. (Capaldi announced last September that he suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, but the film still treats this known diagnosis as something wrong.) We soon get word that the COVID-19 pandemic will “force” the touring superstar to return home, where he tries to write his second album in his parents’ backyard shed (a nice shed it is!) in the quaint little town of Whitburn, Scotland.
Capaldi is acutely aware of his lot in life, even as Pearlman withholds the truth. “You can only be the next big thing for one year,” the singer says before fielding another call from his label, all eager to see what the “Someone You Loved” star has in store. The pressure is building, the heat is intense, and yet “How do I feel now” is only vaguely trying to ask where exactly these tensions arise (Doc leaves late for Capaldi to LA for an excruciating meeting with his team, something that could spawn its own movie about the relentless hunger of record label brass to milk their big stars).
Pearlman takes a similarly noncommittal approach to Capaldi’s family, portraying them as nice, normal people who are very proud of their son, right down to the brief moments in which they whine that Lewis wouldn’t help them get a free hot tub. Fame is certainly a strange thing—Capaldi himself notes that someone once told him that fame doesn’t change you, it changes everyone around you—but Pearlman doesn’t go much deeper, and it certainly doesn’t get much darker. (Also tacky: when Capaldi introduces us to his closest buddies, one of them’s genuine crybaby charm is immediately tempered by the remark that they’re both in Capaldi’s gang.)
Eventually, Capaldi’s self-conscious nature is revealed as impostor syndrome – he admits he doesn’t know why anyone would see him perform, and seems genuinely pained at the thought, as performing is his favorite thing – and his tics. they become so prominent that no one can ignore them anymore.
These complications are very real indeed, but Pearlman leans too hard on the juxtaposition of the “happy, happy” Lewis and the gentler man, and “How I Feel Now” slips into tropes that Capaldi himself could easily imagine. taunt (suddenly dark color grading, humming score, rapid cutting of previous footage approaching panic). Capaldi remains a remarkable, wonderfully honest performer who deserves a documentary that goes as deep as his subject matter.
“Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now” begins streaming on Netflix on Wednesday, April 5.
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