‘Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me’ Review: Behind-the-Fame Doc Offers a Certain Level of Insight

AFI Fest 2022: Working with the director of “Truth or Dare,” Gomez purports to let it all hang out, although she’s still clearly in charge of what we do and don’t see

Selena Gomez My Mind Me
Apple TV+

In the first lines of the documentary “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” the singer-actress-mogul-philanthropist–former Disney star promises the audience, “I’ll only tell you my darkest secrets.” It’s a big promise for what’s to come in this raw, intimate portrait, directed by Alek Keshishian, known for the groundbreaking behind-the-scenes documentary “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” 

But at the end of “Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me,” one can’t help but feel that the dark secrets Gomez has shared, while indeed revealing, have been carefully selected and curated, presented in a manner that is highly stylized and studiously “authentic.” It’s not a warts-and-all confessional, like the YouTube documentaries released by fellow Disney refugee popster Demi Lovato, but something more like a deep conversation with a new friend, one that is open and vulnerable but with some things left unsaid or glossed-over in an effort to steer the conversation toward a specific goal.

You can’t blame Gomez for wanting to keep a few secrets to herself, having had so much of her private life scrutinized since she was a child star and teen idol, her health issues and relationships with other public figures dissected on the internet and in the pages of tabloids ad nauseam. What comes through loud and clear in “My Mind & Me” is Gomez using the film to declare her priorities, and her carefully controlled revelations are a chance to write her own story. 

The choice of director for this project is significant; naturally, there will be comparisons and references made to Keshishian’s pop-fame doc classic “Truth or Dare,” but it also bears mentioning that Keshishian is the brother of Aleen Keshishian, Gomez’s manager, who appears frequently on screen. Gomez clearly felt comfortable allowing a trusted member of her inner circle to capture some of her lowest, most emotionally naked moments, but the choice of just which moments also feels carefully crafted.

Of course, all non-fiction projects are constructed with some kind of story, agenda or goal, and what Gomez and Alek Keshishian ultimately impart is a worthy message of real, human connection as a way to combat the voices in one’s head. Gomez lets her guard down to let viewers see her when she’s sick, tired, grumpy, weepy, anxious, bratty, nervous and angry, with the intent to forge a bond between herself and the viewer but also to show what’s actually important to her. You’ll come away from “My Mind & Me” feeling just a little bit closer to, or at least more interested in, Gomez’s success in overcoming her personal obstacles, which include lupus (which required a kidney transplant), a bipolar disorder diagnosis and the chronic illness that is fame. 

Keshishian shows us a lot of backstage fretting, planning, anxiety and strategizing, as well as the moments of what it means to be Selena Gomez in the world, in rapid-fire montages that evoke how physically and mentally overwhelming it is to live with this level of celebrity. We witness how Selena experiences the fame machine in London or LA, as she contends with teams of yes-women, glam squads, paparazzi, intrusive reporters, and fervent fans, juxtaposed with what seems to be the real Selena, who wanders around her Texas hometown saying hi to her old neighbors or introducing herself to students in Kenya, chatting comfortably about their life experiences as equals. But the fact that a documentary crew is following her around in these authentic moments is always a reminder that she’s still contending with the responsibility of fame and attempting to wrest some control over the narrative. 

Part of the tension in “My Mind & Me,” and in Selena’s own mind, is the task of grappling with what’s “real” — is it her job, which includes the mind-boggling experience of a press tour, or is it the personal connection she finds in Kenya? It’s obvious from the searching questions she poses to her team and friends, as well as in the diary entries that director Keshishian animates with handwriting and posts over abstract black-and-white images of Gomez, that she’s a deep, existential thinker, which is both what grants her the power of empathetic connection and what keeps her up at night. 

There’s a message about mental-health awareness swirling around “My Mind & Me,” but at times, the film feels a bit unfocused, the facts and dates blurry, papered over with evocative montage. A sequence that covers Gomez’s experience with psychosis is vague on the timeline, while a rapidly-edited sequence that swaps from color to black-and-white, with artsy images and text, attempts to reflect the mania of that moment (whenever it was). The film does feel aesthetically shatter-shot at times, the nuts and bolts of the storytelling jumbled and used to create more of an emotional affect.

But the emotions of “My Mind & Me” are affecting, and effective, and the connection that Gomez makes with the audience, though it is consciously constructed, is nonetheless real. What’s perhaps most moving in the film, though, is not her message of mental health awareness but simply her desire to tell her own story and, in doing so, save her own life. Revelatory pop biopics or memoirs are often tragic cautionary tales, showing the way a megastar ended up as a product for consumption (“Elvis”) or a fragile former child star broken by the machine of fame (Britney Spears’ Instagram account).

In “My Mind & Me,” you can feel Gomez grabbing the wheel, taking back her story in order to take back herself. Revealing a few dark secrets is a way to reveal her humanity and to find meaningful connection through sharing herself in a way that she chooses.

“Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me” premieres Nov. 4 on Apple TV+.