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'Charli XCX: Alone Together' review: Pop doc suffers frayed connection


Documentary looks at pop singer Charli XCX's connection with her fans, and the creation of her pandemic album 'How I'm Feeling Now.'

A documentary born out of isolation, "Charli XCX: Alone Together" feels stuck in one place. 

It's built on a high concept gambit: the world shuts down and pop dynamo Chari XCX is stuck in her L.A. home with nowhere to go and nothing to do. Feeling creatively restless, she decides to write, record and release a new album in a five week period, documenting the process in real time for her fans online.

Sounds thrilling, right? Guess you had to be there.

"Alone Together" treats the creation of XCX's 2020 album "How I'm Feeling Now" as background fodder and instead focuses on the artist's connection with her fans, mostly members of the LGBTQ+ community since she found her voice as an avant-garde outsider on 2016's "Vroom Vroom" EP. Except those fans are isolated, too, so as with most connections over computer screens, it's tough to dig much deeper than surface level, and "Alone Together" suffers from a lack of human touch. 

Directors Bradley Bell and Pablo Jones-Soler, the music video team Bradley & Pablo (they've done videos for Harry Styles, Mark Ronson and Juice WRLD), are tasked with assembling footage shot by the English pop singer (born Charlotte Aitchison) and her managers through the ups and downs of quarantine in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Well, mostly downs: XCX is open about her wild mood swings and her feelings of inadequacy, in part passed down from her father, who was adopted as a child. 

She's in isolation with her boyfriend of seven years, Huck Kwong, and they've never spent more than 11 consecutive days together. That could make for juicy drama, but Kwong remains elusive to cameras, and we barely learn anything about him or his relationship with XCX, other than he lives in New York and isn't in a particular hurry to get back. 

The album is being recorded, it's behind schedule and XCX stays up late nights recording to finish in time. But we're told that, we barely see it, and little is revealed about the artist's creative process, the songs themselves or how they came to be. (Tracks from producers such as BJ Burton and A.G. Cook arrive via email, which admittedly doesn't make for great on-screen drama.) 

So we're left with the fans, who are given a virtual pick-me-up when XCX shows up via Zoom in one of their online dance parties. There's something to be said about the artist-fan dynamic in the digital space, and how technology will shape fan interactions going forward. What will a meet and greet look like in the Metaverse, and will that one day be an acceptable substitute for an in person meet-up? As anyone who has watched an online concert during the pandemic can attest, there's a lot of work left to do. 

"Alone Together" — barely feature length at 67 minutes — captures a moment in time when the world hit pause but one pop star refused to slow down. That was her gift to her fans, and "Alone Together" is for those fans and those fans alone. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Charli XCX: Alone Together'

GRADE: C

Not rated: Language, adult situations

Running time: 67 minutes

Available On Demand