Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” was the exception to pop star documentaries that proved the rule. The Netflix production provided a template for how mega-singers could weaponize major streaming platforms into carrying their water for them; it showed them how the promise of intimacy was enough to eventize old tour footage into something that felt more candid than a commercial, and yet not so big that it would have to compete with the “break the internet” spectacle of a new Beyoncé special.
It was also quite good, and shaped into the flattering but fair-minded portrait of a young woman at war with her own self-worth on the world stage. By that measure, Grande’s own Netflix showcase, “excuse me, I love you,” is nothing more than a harmless dose of pop doc porn.
Director Paul Dugdale’s tribute is so explicitly a fans-only affair identifies Grande’s mom with a subtitle that reads “need we say more.” It opens with the sound of screaming fans, ends with the sound of screaming fans, and peaks with the pop star relating a story about how all of her dogs started having explosive diarrhea while she was on a FaceTime call with Kristin Chenoweth. That’s what passes for a personal revelation in a documentary that affects the tone of a diary (Grande’s scattered annotations scribble across the screen every once in a long while), but comes off more like a bit of empty fan service that’s desperately trying to disguise itself as something more sincere.
“excuse me, i love you” is first and foremost a concert film that captures a few highlights from Grande’s “Sweetener” tour, or at least from the show’s London performance (an Albany-set prologue leaves the impression that we’ll be globe-hopping along with Grande, which glosses each of the singer’s many jarring shoutouts to the British crowd with some inadvertently amusing “Groundhog Day” vibes). And while a general audience might not feel like the unexpectedly sedate concert experience does all that much to enhance Grande’s impressive catalogue of vowel-forward pop bangers, the frequent scream-along shots of teens in attendance make it clear that real fans aren’t going to look this holiday season gift horse in the mouth.
Grande has a great voice, a talented crew of dancers, a giant light-up backdrop that looks like the Eye of Sauron, a spin cycle jam about bouncing side to side on some dick, and enough hits to serve up 90 minutes of all-killer, no-filler pop smoothness. This movie gives you all of that, plus a snippet of the pop star watching “Midsommar” on the side, as a treat. No one who was actively looking forward to this thing is going to feel like watching it wasn’t time well spent.
But even they — perhaps especially they — will sense how much Grande is withholding from them, and how uninterested this movie about her was in achieving its full potential. As a concert film, “excuse me, i love you” is only as good as whatever song Grande happens to be singing at the time. As a more personal behind-the-scenes look at the star behind the shine, Dugdale’s film is such thin gruel that it almost feels like an insult to what even the general public knows she’s been through.
It’s never a good sign when icky Svengali Scooter Braun shows up in the first few minutes of a filmed love-fest, but the real bummer of his appearance comes from his ominous allusion to “where Ariana was six or eight months ago.” Diehards will presumably know what he’s referring to based on the “Sweetener” tour dates, but the rest of us — at a time when it’s hard to keep track of when things happened in our own lives — aren’t sure if he’s talking about the Pete Davidson thing, or Mac Miller’s death, or the horrific suicide-bomb attack in the middle of Grande’s 2017 Manchester show, or any of the other darkness that’s never mentioned by name, and only addressed in the vaguest terms.
Dugdale spends more time on Grande play-fighting with blow-up dolls backstage than he does on any of the things that might support (or even give basic shape to) the film’s ostensibly triumphant arc. After watching Grande hug her lighting technicians, fangirl over some attention from Mariah Carey, and pal around with any of the four people who are labeled as her “best friend,” the movie leaves you with the curious sensation of feeling like you somehow know less about its subject than you did when it started.
Had “excuse me, i love you” solely focused on the show, it would have delivered the goods to Grande’s fanbase and maybe even allowed room for another song or two. That the doc also makes a lame attempt to peek behind the curtain — and a clear but ineffective effort to hint at a real sense of loss and resolve beyond all of the private jets and backstage fun — only underscores the fact that we’re watching a commercial for a well-manufactured human product. The person who’s playing Grande on screen has never seemed further out of reach.
“excuse me, i love you” is now streaming on Netflix.
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