In Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me, a new documentary on Apple TV+, there is a sense of a shadow self, the ghosts of movies that could have been.
Most of the first 15 minutes of the movie take place in 2016, when Gomez, who was 23 at the time but is now 30, is getting ready for a world tour to promote her 2015 album Revival. The album was meant to change her image from a Disney star to a single adult sexual being.
The footage has all the signs of a tour documentary: a relaxed, more profane version of Gomez at costume fittings and tour rehearsals; a moment when she breaks under pressure and cries to her friends and crew that nothing is good enough; a montage of cities and stages and poses and cheers and crying, overwhelmed fans.
After that, stop. After 55 shows, the Revival tour was canceled because Gomez went to a mental health facility. Talking heads who don’t show up for the rest of the movie talk about how terrible things were for Gomez.
Then, the story jumps to 2019, where Gomez is recovering from a rough three years that are alluded to but not fully explored: a 2017 kidney transplant due to complications from the auto-immune disease lupus, a breathlessly covered reconciliation, and final breakup with Justin Bieber, a reconciliation with her family after a psychotic break, and another stay in a treatment facility with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Most pop star documentaries are more interesting for what they don’t include than what they do. Still, My Mind & Me, directed by Alek Keshishian, whose 1991 Madonna film Truth or Dare set the pattern and remains the gold standard for the genre, is a fascinating mix of choices.
There’s no mention of her well-received return to TV on the popular Hulu series Only Murders in the Building, her equally charming cooking show Selena + Chef, or her and her mother’s role in producing the controversial series 13 Reasons Why.
There’s only a brief mention of Revelación, her first Spanish-language album, which will come out in 2021.
Instead, My Mind & Me is a collection of fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, digressions, omissions, and reroutes that Gomez made over the course of six years. During that time, her personal life and her understanding of her brain changed a lot.
At the beginning of the film, Gomez says, “I’ll only tell you my darkest secrets.” However, the film doesn’t feel like an exorcism, propaganda, or observation like Demi Lovato’s Dancing with the Devil, Taylor Swift’s Miss Americana, or Billie Eilish’s The World’s A Little Blurry.
Instead, it feels like a biased, sincere, and obviously incomplete record of hard-won growth. That’s not a bad thing because Gomez is still a very likeable and winning person.
Gomez, arguably more than any of her peers, is the pop star with the most visible Sliding Door self. She is an ordinary girl, the kind who gets drive-thru burgers with her cousin Priscilla in the middle of the movie in her hometown of Grand Prairie, Texas.
Gomez has been the most vocal about how she doesn’t like the pressure to be seen and the need for celebrities to want to perform.
So, Mind & Me is a mixed form of promotion. It’s a documentary about a pop star that focuses on the value of fame, but in the second half of the film, she promotes her 2020 comeback album Rare.
Why keep going if, as she says in the very corny parts of the movie where her diary entries are shown over blurry black-and-white footage of Gomez, success “has killed me”?
The answer, if the movie gives one and Gomez says it with his usual sincerity, is to connect with people.
My Mind & Me shows how scared she was to tell people she had bipolar disorder and how relieved she was when she did. It also shows how hard she worked to get rid of the stigma around mental illness.
It works better when Keshishian, who makes real-life films, catches Gomez telling it than when he follows her to places that show it, like her old middle school, her childhood home, or the house of an old neighbour friend.
In the middle of the book, in Kenya, Gomez visits a school that she helped fund through the now controversial We Charity. This seems to be the most out-of-place part.
Gomez seems to care, but the images, which are a big part of the movie, still make you cringe.
As in Truth or Dare, Keshishian works in ways that make Gomez’s angelic image more complicated. For example, he has Gomez be rude to an interviewer who is too glib, refuses to listen to a friend, and acts badly when someone genuinely cares about him.
My Mind & Me is at its best and most brave in moments like this, when it shows Gomez’s humanity by recording things we all do but don’t want to be on record.
The staged documentary about Taylor Swift would never be.
At one point, her friend Raquelle says that most people wouldn’t know how “complex” Gomez is underneath her kindness.
At its best, My Mind & Me shows this thorny complexity through a star who makes the best case for anyone to share and hide it.