Directed by Erin Lee Carr and released on Netflix last Tuesday, “Britney vs. Spears” is a harrowing documentary exploring the murky waters surrounding the pop star’s conservatorship. Approximately 90 minutes in length, Carr and Jenny Eliscu, a Rolling Stone editor who has previously worked with Spears, delve deep into their research by interviewing those close with Spears and obtaining their own private evidence. While the documentary provides valuable insight into Spears’ struggles, a lack of organization, compounded by overspecificity, ultimately leaves viewers confused. Caution: there are spoilers ahead.
The documentary excels in gaining perspective into Spears’s personal issues, especially during the early years of her conservatorship. A wide range of interviewees were chosen, including former boyfriends, management, and medical staff. Perhaps most shocking is an interview with Dr. Edward Spar, a retired geriatric psychiatrist. While his diagnosis of dementia rendered Spears legally unable to retain her own attorney—which she would have used to fight the conservatorship—Spar doesn’t even acknowledge having met her. He also refused to acknowledge his name being mentioned in an official court document.
More visceral, personal insight is gained via Eliscu, who shares numerous experiences she’s had with Spears herself. A supposed acquaintance of the star since 2001, Eliscu reveals that she became closely involved with the case in 2009. Working with ex-boyfriend Sam Lufti, she snuck Spears’s legal papers for her to sign in a hotel bathroom in Beverly Hills. These papers were to request a judge that would replace her appointed attorney with one of her choosing. Yet Eliscu says that the attempt was unsuccessful and swept under the rug. “I never heard anything of it again,” she says in an interview.
These interviews, carefully selected and pieced together, heighten the mystery and confusion that has surrounded Spears’s conservatorship for years. Most implicated, both within the documentary and to the rest of the world, is Spears’s father Jamie, who she has frequently spoken out against in various legal battles. Jamie was suspended as a conservator only last week, and speculation about his financial and personal role in Spears’s life abounds. Eliscu describes, “He is very intimidating, and when he’s angry, you don’t want to mess with him.” Several interviewees refuse to even talk about him, subtly implying that he is most at fault.
Yet this conclusion is one of the few that comes across clearly in the entire documentary. Its directors are so invested in hearing from anyone involved with the case––friends, doctors, legal professionals– that a majority of the documentary is wrapped up in incomprehensive legal jargon. While the documentary is presented in chronological order, new interviewees are so often introduced into the storyline that these markers feel like empty placeholders, with little cohesion.
Finally, the documentary fails in creating a comprehensible, satisfying ending for its viewers. While much of the conclusion was left up in the air, as the attempted termination of Spears’s conservatorship is still ongoing, it overall fails to push across any distinct points. Ending with a transcripted conversation of Spears only three weeks ago, citing her father as a person of contention, the production does not return to previously explored avenues or related issues. A woman close with Jamie, Lynn Taylor, is talked about for about five minutes before never being mentioned again. And a plethora of interviewees, including ex-boyfriends, attorneys, and even CEOs, appear only once or barely twice. By raising so many questions with such a wide range of evidence, the documentary is unable to give virtually any closure, leaving viewers discontent and confused.
“Britney vs. Spears” is a tried-again, disorienting production that unsuccessfully distinguishes itself from related narratives. While some new evidence serves to make the documentary distinct, it only emphasizes arguments that have been standing for years. With an unsatisfying ending and chaotic setup, this production adds virtually nothing across a constellation of similar iterations. Review: 3 out of 5 stars.