Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil [SXSW Review]

Demi Lovato isn't afraid to be open about her demons. Such honesty, both in interviews and her music, is one of the things that has endeared her to fans around the world. She may seem to have it all on the surface – talent, beauty, wealth, fame – yet she struggles with the same issues many people do. Rather than trying to hide the areas of life that are complicated, Lovato speaks out. Her honesty and bravery have never been on display as much as they are in the documentary Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil.

The movie uses her 2018 overdose as a jumping off point. It made news across the globe. Lovato reveals that the situation was much worse than anyone realized. She suffered three strokes, had a heart attack, and is no longer allowed to drive a car because of blind spots in her eyes. Other details are even more shocking, including the revelation that her drug dealer sexually assaulted her, and she attempted to deal with that by retraumatizing herself a short time later. Friends and business associates appear on camera to tell what they witnessed.

Dancing with the Devil effectively conveys how Lovato got to this point. Trauma has been a recurring theme in her life, from the unpleasant manner of her father's death to being raped by a fellow Disney Channel star. Alcohol and drugs became a way of self-medicating, until eventually stronger substances were necessary, crack and heroin among them. Lovato doesn't hold back in discussing her addiction. She's forthright about it, even referring to herself as a “junkie” at one point.

Because of her willingness to lay it all out on the table, this is a movie that could genuinely help people. Lovato has learned something important: you've got to talk about the bad things in order to recover from them. Too many people, especially young women, are programmed to hide it if they've been abused or mistreated. They've been told there is shame in having an addiction. Demi Lovato is here to say “screw that.” By opening up, she directly displays the kind of fortitude necessary to heal trauma and gain control over an addictive personality.

There is one other area in which Dancing with the Devil is beneficial, and it's something a lot of people might miss. Toward the end, Lovato reveals that she is not, in fact, currently sober. In an effort to see whether she can use substances lighter than opioids in moderation, she's been drinking alcohol and smoking weed. The idea is that these will satisfy her cravings, thereby avoiding the need to hit the harder stuff. As interviewee Elton John correctly says, though, the idea of moderation doesn't work for an addict. This suggests that Lovato may hit rock bottom again somewhere down the road.

I'm not criticizing the singer in saying that. Quite the opposite. She's brave enough to acknowledge that her struggle continues, and the movie offers great value in reminding viewers that fighting addiction is a lifelong effort. You don't get to a magical point where relapse is no longer a threat. Displaying that ongoing vulnerability is perhaps the most honest thing Lovato does in Dancing with the Devil. It's a message that needs to be sent. She deserves credit for laying herself bare.

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil

Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil is unrated, but contains graphic descriptions of drug use and sexual assault. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.