"No topic was off limits. No question went unanswered." That's what we were told at the beginning of the MTV documentary "Britney: For the Record."
That may be technically correct, but Britney's answers to those questions provide very little insight about her life, her decision-making, or her mistakes. "I'm a smart person. What the hell was I thinking?" she says at one point. She never answers that question, however, and contradicts the first part of her statement by, among other things, using words such as "hisself."
Still, the documentary that debuted Sunday night and promised us to re-introduce us to Britney Spears did, in fact, give insight. But it's not from Britney's vague, occasionally contradictory responses.
At the beginning, Britney insists that "there's a lot that people don't know about me," but then she doesn't do much to change that, answering most questions with vague language. Most of her answers sound like this: "I just did it because, for the sake — the idea of everything, and um, it just led me on a weird path," she says, talking about marrying Kevin Federline.
Asked why she shaved her head, Britney says, "I was going through so much artificial stuff with my kids and Kevin at the time. He'd just left me and I was devastated. ... People shave their heads all the time." She calls it "a little bit of rebellion, or feeling free, or shedding stuff that had happened, you know?"
There are flashes of insight — "It's better just not to feel anything at all and to have hope, than to feel the other way," she says — and occasionally, Britney gets close to confessing.
She admits that after breaking up with Federline, she essentially fled from her house and kids ("I just remember I did not want to be at home") and says, "when I was in my car and when I was driving, I was going somewhere."
Britney's memoirs?That's interesting, but that's as much as we get from Britney. At the end, director Phil Griffin clearly knows his subject hasn't offered much during their interviews, so he asks what Britney would say to people who think she hasn't been honest enough.
"I'll have a good book one day. A good, mysterious book," Britney says, even though the point of the film was to shed that mystery.
A departure for MTV, the film is a subdued, quiet piece of work, reflective except for its general lack of reflection. Where it succeeds is in illustrating Britney's life, or at least a few fragments of it, from her manager father ("Goddamn, that's hooker shoes, baby. Can you dance in those things?") to her choreographer, who seems to be the most compassionate person in her life.
The moments that occur between Britney's interview segments are the most powerful. On the set of her music video, for example, she makes an offhand comment that tells us a lot: "My God, I hate f---ing waitin'. I'm the most impatient person alive."
At another point, Britney goes shopping — shielded from photographers on the way in by a woman holding a giant purse and on the way out by two people holding up a large piece of fabric — and tries on clothes, and while wearing a particularly professional outfit, pretends she's a lawyer and looks into the mirror. "My name is Matilda," Britney says, and it's devastating and hilarious all at once.
Day-to-day chaosIn the most disturbing scene, Britney waits in an SUV to enter a building. Security forms a barrier from throngs of paparazzi and she jumps out, and the documentary's camera starts to follow her, but moments later everyone's piling back in the car and a paparazzi photographer is screaming for some unexplained reason.
It's all very chaotic and incredible to imagine that this represents her daily life.
Britney insists she is "a very private person" and later says, "I used to be a cool chick, you know? And I feel like the paparazzi has taken my whole cool slang away from me. Like, going out, and doing stuff, and like seeing a guy and hanging out."
That's as close as the documentary comes to blaming anyone — from Britney herself to those in her life — directly, and the paparazzi (deservedly) get most of the blame. Still, there's no mention of the people who, say, buy celebrity magazines or obsessively read gossip blogs, supporting the industry that traffics in the lives of people like Britney.
While Britney says things like "you end up becoming a prisoner," there's also no mention of her current legal situation, or her parents' role in her life, or her visitation rights with her kids, or much of anything that those tabloids and gossip magazines have covered.
All that "Britney: For the Record" leaves us with, then, is a faint portrait of a 26-year-old whose life is unlike any other 26-year-old's, even though she wants to convince herself otherwise . "I try to make it as normal as possible, for me," she says. Only once does she finally admit otherwise. "There's no excitement, there's no passion. It's just like Groundhog Day every day."
Just before she says that, Britney breaks down and cries while talking about those in her life who she talks to but who don't apparently hear her. Suddenly, in the film's most honest and revealing moment, she says simply, "I'm sad."
is a writer who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news. .