Selena Gomez, who first rose to fame as a Disney tween star, entered adulthood at the top of the pop music charts and is one of the most followed people on Instagram. Somewhere along the way everything went wrong. Battling the autoimmune disease lupus and an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, she retired from the public eye and was eventually hospitalized after what was described as a psychotic hiatus.
Premiered today on Apple TV+, the new documentary Selena Gomez: My mind and I chronicles life before and after the breakdown and her uneasy rise from multiple health crises. Sometimes intimate, sometimes sensational, it was directed by Alek Keshishian, best known for being the influential 1991 tour doc Madonna: Truth or Dare.
opening shot: We see Gomez in a Paris hotel room in 2019. As makeup artists apply lipstick and backcomb her hair, her thousand-yard stare suggests she’d rather be somewhere else. We next see her in the back seat of a car, her head on the lap of her best friend and traveling companion, Raquelle Stevens. “I’m very tired,” says Selena. “Want to take your morning meds?” Stevens asks, before answering to herself, “I know the answer, but… you should.”
The essentials: In 2016, Selena Gomez was one of the biggest stars in entertainment. The world had seen her grow up in Disney programs like this Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place But like other child stars of her generation, she was keen to prove she was a grown-up now. As the film opens, Gomez gears up for a crushing tour in support of her 2015 album revival. From the beginning she is plagued by insecurity and doubts. Some of this is the result of ongoing health issues from her battle with the autoimmune disease lupus. Some of it seems to stem from psychic wounds deep within her soul.
While Selena weeps in disgust at her performance and performance backstage, her management and record label offer nothing but platitudes. The 26-year-old woman laments having the body of a “12-year-old boy” and is haunted by her perception of being a child star. “I want nothing more than not to be my past,” she says. To cheer her up, her managers give her a bag of magic potions, one for each day of the tour. It’s the kind of gift you would give a child.
The film is free and easy with the actual chronology of events. We hurtle through a grueling loop of hotels, rehearsals, concerts, meeting and greeting fans who are both devoted and entitled while paparazzi pursue them, yelling questions like, “Did Justin Bieber make you go to rehab?” After three months on the road, the remaining appointments are cancelled. Somewhere along the way, she has a kidney transplant and is later hospitalized after talking about harming herself. Gomez’s mother, Mandy, says she first heard about the episode from gossip website TMZ.
When we next see Gomez, it’s 2019. She’s pacing her mansion lethargically, talking about her regrets and her recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. She credits friends and family for pulling her back from the brink and worries about sinking back into depression. To keep her fears at bay and find meaning in her life, she strives to learn more about her condition and raise awareness of mental health issues around the world.
In search of a steady focus, she returns to her Texas hometown, where she visits her cousin and former neighbors on the street where she grew up. “After leaving the last treatment center, I knew what makes me happy is the connection,” she says. She later travels to Kenya to attend a women’s school that she funded through WE Charity. While coming from similarly humble backgrounds, it was a long time ago and she seems out of place, but is also strengthened by experience and sees a way forward.
The good times don’t last. Afterwards, a European press trip awakens traumatic memories of her past. “I’m having fun,” she tells Stevens unconvincingly as she discusses a grueling work schedule that leaves her no days off between travel and work commitments. She goes into the 2020 pandemic shutdown with lupus flared up, but somehow she survives and gets stronger. The film ends with Gomez showing a renewed sense of mission to help others. “I’m a work in progress. i am enough I’m Selena,” she concludes.
Which movies will it remind you of?: My mind & I follows the path of documentaries like Machine Gun Kelly’s Life in Pink and Gaga: Five Foot Two, films that strive to present their subjects as important artists at a personal or professional crossroads, their youth on the one hand and a more mature version of themselves on the other. At the same time, the frank discussion of mental health issues is reminiscent of the recent Sheryl Crow documentary Sheryl and Charli XCX: Alone togetherthough this one travels to far darker places.
Notable performance: It’s the Selena Gomez show, and while the film isn’t itself a performance, her willingness to share her story, warts and all, is admirable and should be applauded.
Memorable dialogue: “If I were a man, I could wear jeans and just change my t-shirt and put on a hat and nobody would care,” she says during a costume check, before casually adding, “Actually, I like the boobs. I don’t know, I need a small breast.”
gender and skin: I mean, sure, there are a few moments where we see Gomez getting dressed, but THAT’S REALLY NOT WHAT THE MOVIE OF HER big perv is about.
Our opinion: If you’ve ever wondered why being a child actor isn’t a good career choice, or why all the glitter isn’t gold, Selena Gomez: My mind and I makes everything very clear. Few documentaries have made celebrity life seem more pathetic, and remember I regularly review music documentaries about near-hopeless drug addicts. The failure of the followers and the management also plays a prominent role in the film. Here’s a piece of advice: Cliché words of encouragement and over-planning don’t relieve anxiety and depression; on the contrary, they usually make them worse.
Despite her many talents, Gomez has always been extremely personable. She is down to earth and ready to poke fun at herself. None of this is shown in the film. This is not a puff piece. That is the point. By showing Selena in her deepest moments, perhaps others who are struggling with mental health issues will recognize something of themselves and realize that they are not alone.
Our appeal: Stream it. Selena Gomez: My mind and I is not easy to watch and can be particularly hard for those who have experienced mental illness first hand. However, you cannot address an issue if you do not acknowledge it. Hopefully, by shedding light on her own struggles, Gomez can alleviate the stigma that surrounds mental illness and makes it difficult to treat. As the film convincingly asserts, help often comes one step and one person at a time.
Benjamin H. Smith is a New York-based writer, producer and musician. Follow him on Twitter: @BHSmithNYC.