“Hi, I’m Olivia Rodrigo,” a small child says with a microphone and bangs in what looks like home video footage. She exhales loudly, then clarifies: “From California.
The clip in question completes the montage of music videos, interviews and live performances that opens OLIVIA RODRIGO: Drive Home 2 u (A SOUR Movie), a mouthful of a new Disney+ project from director Stacey Lee. The film is a supplement to Rodrigo’s hit album, now 19 years old. ACIDwho emerged amid her whirlwind 2021 – a year that began with her still best known as the star of the Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (bites all around), and ended with his name TIMEis the artist of the year.
ACID is an 11-track project the Temecula-raised singer-songwriter recorded with producer Dan Nigro at last year’s peak, largely chronicling the emotional toll of a much-speculated breakup — and, to a lesser extent (but still notable) measure, being a famous teenager. The album earned Rodrigo seven Grammy nominations. Among them is the coveted Album of the Year, where ACID will face more established heavyweights like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish and Kanye West.
Through this lens, while some viewers might be surprised that a film about Rodrigo would appear so soon, its timing could be interpreted as an attempt to beat the Recording Academy to the punch – to let the record show that’s what ACID meant to its creator, and what it will likely continue to mean no matter what in a week and a half.
“I just wanna sing a little song to my friends and family over there…from now on,” Tiny Olivia Rodrigo continues before we finally connect with her adult self. Over the next 70 minutes or so, the latter takes us through each of the ACID‘s, performing them live with an all-female band on a handful of stops between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the stretch that apparently saw her pen a significant portion of the album. The film is less a making-of documentary than a concert film with expository interludes between songs, where Rodrigo offers behind-the-scenes anecdotes (for example, this “brutal” was only added to the album ‘at the last minute, a nightmare for this critic ) and an insight into his writing process. As she puts it, it’s a chance to “play the songs in those places that mean so much to me and revisit them with older eyes.”
Rodrigo’s songwriting chops have been the focus of much of the press surrounding her rise to fame, as she wrote or co-wrote the entirety of ACID. (We’re told the album didn’t start becoming one until January 2021, shortly after the “driver’s license” passed the Billboard Hot 100 and the momentum was clearly not worth wasting, helping to force the hand of his supposedly reluctant label.) His MO as a wordsmith is one of brutal honesty; she’ll sing that she hopes her unnamed ex is okay, but like…within reason, and she doesn’t seem afraid to play the whacko when the art calls for it. Out of fidelity to her pen, she interprets ACID in the order in which it was written rather than in the order in which it was packaged.
The performances themselves are the highlight of the film, with the songs given entirely new arrangements for the occasion. There’s a supercharged version of the usually mellow ‘jealousy, jealousy’, while ‘good 4 u’ gets a nice string arrangement (if a bit less cathartic). Being Rodrigo’s first major single, “drivers license” is set to a montage of the track as it blossoms from a work in progress into a record-breaking cultural phenomenon. Even putting the music aside, however, the actual facilities here are often jaw-dropping, scattered as they are mostly in the desert. For example, “brutal” is played inside an old commercial jet that was retired to the Mojave Airplane Graveyard, left to grow with vines. The effect is almost post-apocalyptic, or at least in keeping with the song’s alienating vibe.
Outside of performances, however, that same sense of stagnation often comes off as, well, staged. The heart-to-heart she has with her friend Jacob Collier while sitting on the hood of a car, the real heart she draws in the condensation on her motel bathroom window, the frolics in the ocean that she makes with the members of her group to celebrate her arrival at the end of the project. It’s a recurring creative choice that seems oddly at odds with the album’s ethos, where the emphasis is otherwise on Rodrigo’s distinctive authenticity. The documentary segments are narrowly saved by the flying footage she and Nigro managed to snap from their recording sessions in early 2021, which provide a much-needed look at the star doing what she does best: being vulnerable. , then put that vulnerability to music.
That said, his music takes a bit of a hit as Disney+ opts to turn off choice swear words on ACID, those who made the headlines when the album was released. So Rodrigo joins the growing list of artists whose lyrics have been doctored by the streamer for his original music specials. She’s in good company here – the list also includes her idol, Swift, as well as her counterpart, Eilish – but it’s a curious look for the House of Mouse to blunt the edge of a project whose jitters have been so good in the last year and a game changer, both PR and business wise. The fact that Peter Jackson and the surviving members of the Beatles successfully fought to keep the F-bombs intact last year Return, highlighting how flimsy the rules of the platform are in the first place. (With the 2020s hamiltonLin-Manuel Miranda is somewhere between the two poles.) In the case of ACID, several moments on the album don’t quite hit the same without some curses, and taken in the context of the streamer’s other music specials, it feels like there was no good reason for that. . It’s hard to say if Rodrigo fans will actually care.
Speaking of which, in addition to the film performing some sort of intelligently self-preserving function, drive home 2 u doubles as a gift to the Livies. There’s not really any attempt to catch up on Rodrigo so we can fully immerse ourselves in her shrewd meditations on child stardom (she’s been famous since she was a pre-teen) or understand her allusions to the “drama” that swirled around the release of the album (very much in the news this week). So if you’re just a superficial listener hoping for gossip, an explicit correction of the recordings, or a useful biography, you won’t find it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome things about ACID herself in Lee’s film, not to mention its ultra-talented creator and the undeniably exciting career that awaits her. But when Tiny Olivia Rodrigo tells the camera that she just wants to “sing a little song to my friends and family,” it turns out to be as much thesis for the film as it is a sweet family heirloom.
Director: Stacey Lee
Release date: March 25, 2022 (Disney+)
Sydney Urbanek is a Toronto-based writer on movies, music videos, and things in between. She wrote her master’s thesis on Jonas Åkerlund’s music video work. She also writes a newsletter called Mononym Mythology about mostly pop divas and their (visual) antics. You can find it on Twitter and Instagram.