Documentary ‘Charli XCX: Alone Together’ inspiringly celebrates creativity, community

Photo of a still from the CharliXCX documentary

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

A heartbreaking, motivating story about pop phenomenon Charli XCX’s quarantine life and album production in 2020, the documentary “Charli XCX: Alone Together” offers crucial remedy as well as amusement amid the seeming endlessness of the COVID-19 pandemic. Directors Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler experiment with materials uncommon to traditional filmmaking, such as blurry Zoom recordings, TikTok videos and Instagram reels. Surprisingly, such experimentation does not compromise their storytelling — instead, this unique configuration resonates as genuine, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic in 2022.

At first, the film appears somewhat informal or even amateurish. Due to recording difficulties set by quarantine, Bradley and Pablo could not hire professional camera crews, meaning that the responsibilities of filming rested almost entirely on Charli’s shoulders. As a result, the film is packed with unconventionally inconsistent footage, constantly jumping from square to rectangular to panoramic frames. Usually featuring Charli wearing casual day-to-day clothing and little makeup, there is little attempt to make the film look elegant or polished — from the very start, it is intentionally shocking and provocative.

Yet what originally appears uncomfortable turns out to be the most touching and awe-inspiring part of the film. Many people are already very familiar with her vanguard, pioneering artist image, but “Alone Together” takes away this avant-garde persona and allows audiences to see the singer in all her beautiful vulnerability.

Shooting with a hand-held camera, a computer or simply her phone, Charli reveals her private life in an honest and natural way. The film sweetly captures her everyday life during quarantine, featuring scenes with her and her boyfriend. Beyond her relationships, the documentary reveals how painstakingly meticulous Charli is about her music — viewers see her upfront reactions to production perfection and flaws alike.

Charli is never afraid to share her emotions in front of a camera — she is so open that she often lets the camera zoom in too closely upon her, showing her teardrops or a wide smile. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and frankness to expose such vulnerability to cameras, let alone for a pop star such as Charli XCX.

She also speaks quite openly about her mental health, sharing that she sees a psychiatrist. Much of the film is faithfully dedicated to showing how she not only holds genuine concern for her own mental wellbeing, but also patiently cares for the ones she loves. Beautifully, the film testifies that Charli’s album How I’m Feeling Now is a wholehearted effort to empower herself as well as the fans who have always stood by her side.

Although the pandemic would not have allowed otherwise, Bradley and Pablo smartly adapted to using footage from Charli’s phone, computer and hand-held cameras and stuck to those untraditional yet authentic images. This distinct decision allowed for storytelling to become the film’s undeniable highlight, and the documentary delivers Charli’s story naturally and effortlessly.

The most moving part of the film is unquestionably how it portrays Charli’s fans as an inseparable part of her album-making story; How I’m Feeling Now is essentially an outcome of close communication and collaboration. The film fascinatingly portrays in detail how her fans provided album feedback via Zoom or social media, and it also explores how making the record with her fans endowed the project with a greater significance: It brings people who are otherwise alone together.

The documentary concludes with multiple juxtaposed endings. It not only mentions how Charli’s album achieved commercial success and critical acclaim but also how the artist’s fans found community and new meanings of life amid the disheartening shadows of the pandemic. Ultimately, the film is both a testimony to Charli’s incredible musical talents and a celebration of a closely bonded, creative community.

“Alone Together” shines with its sincere attitude and touching story. In a world of continued physical separation, the documentary serves as a critically needed masterpiece that celebrates love and helps heal loneliness.

Contact William Xu at [email protected].