Charli XCX: Alone Together

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Charli XCX: Alone Together
"Having been largely shot by amateurs, this documentary looks rough, but as always, the magic is in the edit."

The experience of lockdown split society into several distinct groups, across a lot of affected countries. There were the first responders who worked non-stop to try to save lives. There were the key workers who put themselves at risk (often without much choice) to ensure that others could continue to access essentials. There was the vast majority of people who were simply stuck at home, trying to come up with new ways of working or looking after themselves. And then there was the creative sector. At Eye For Film we shifted our focus and tried to get our readers more in touch with entertainment accessible from home. Directors msde short films with what they had to hand. Comedians gave live online performances. Actors staged plays across multiple locations using Zoom. Pop star Charli XCX decided that she was going to bring all her fans together online to help her write, record and produce an album in just five weeks.

The point of all this creative activity was to provide people in stressful roles and people under lockdown with an emotional outlet and a sense of connection. Charli’s contribution was needed all the more because she has a large LGBT following and most of her fans are young, placing them in one of the high risk groups for both domestic abuse and mental illness (often caused by such abuse) under lockdown. This film follows five of them as well as documenting how the star herself developed her project and acting as a sort of video diary, with scenes in which she discusses how she is feeling at various stages along the way. On hand to help is her boyfriend Huck Kwong, and though fans will be aware that the two have since separated, there’s still a lot of tenderness on display here, which informs some of the songs.

Despite its musical focus, this is far from being wall to wall pop. The focus is much more on the way that Charli and her fans – collectively known as Angels – use their connections with one another to steer themselves through this trying time and find new ways of expressing themselves. Several of the fans have creative projects of their own. One performs drag, as Poison Oakland, and performs at an online party, an important outlet for feelings which have been suffocated whilst being unable to get onstage. Charli herself dances and performs over Zoom for her fans, writes songs, designs and shoots videos, makes radio broadcasts and paints stones. A new intimacy develops between her and the Angels, who are amazed that she’s talking to them directly and thrilled that she finds ways of incorporating their lyric ideas and video clips into her work. Her willingness to reveal her own vulnerability and her susceptibility to lockdown stress enables a human connection which overcomes the usual gulf between a celebrity and a fan.

Having been largely shot by amateurs, this documentary looks rough, but as always, the magic is in the edit. As personal as it is, it will mean a lot to fans, whether or not they participated in the project. It also has something to say about the changing nature of the music industry, but it is most interesting as a portrait of fandom, exploring the way that, for many people, it’s less about the celebrity focus itself than about friendships with others who share that focus. Charli provides a means whereby people can find others like themselves, and this is portrayed here in wholly positive light, without being patronising. Her own understanding of it, and willingness to embrace it, enriches that experience. Lockdown simply brings into tighter focus a story about adaptability, empathy and what it means to social outsiders to find a space in which they can be themselves.

Reviewed on: 13 Apr 2022
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Acclaimed pop star Charli XCX teams up with her legions of queer fans across the globe to create a new album, in this DIY documentary.

Director: Bradley Bell, Bradley Bell, Pablo Jones-Soler

Starring: Charli XCX, Huck Kwong

Year: 2021

Runtime: 67 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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