She revolutionized the concert industry this year. Now she is transforming the movie business. Not only is "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" invading AMC Theaters for a month, but she is allowing screaming, dancing and cellphones during the marathon movie. OMG! Let's go!
We — a veteran Swiftie since 2006 who experienced three shows on the Eras Tour and a movie critic who knows "Lavender Haze" when he hears it filter out of a neighboring AMC screen — attended the "Eras" movie on Friday, the originally scheduled opening for this $100-million first weekend. (Taylor being Taylor, she offered sneak previews on Thursday night with only 24 hours' notice.)
The hallways of AMC Southdale were littered with glitter and popcorn. However, during our movie, no one screamed, no one danced or sang along, and no one exchanged friendship bracelets. It was the 11 p.m. screening and, surprisingly, we could count the number of filmgoers on our fingers.
After waking up in a lavender haze, we discussed the latest blockbuster.
Hewitt: That "Lavender Haze" outfit is lilac, by the way. Outrageous! My main reaction to "Eras" was that it's no "Stop Making Sense," which is a high bar since I think that Talking Heads/Jonathan Demme collab is the all-time best concert film. "Eras" isn't filmmaking on that level but it's a really good document of a concert. I feel like I have a sense of what it would have been like to see those shows. But you actually did see those shows. Does that ring true for you?
Bream: "Stop Making Sense," indeed the best concert film ever, was conceived for the screen, i.e., as a movie that became a concert, as well. "Eras Tour" is a wonderful representation of the music, performance and spectacle of Taylor's fabulous show, which, as a concert, sets the bar as high as "Stop Making Sense" did as a concert film.
You get a closer-than-front-row seat — you can see the beads of sweat on Taylor's face and her chipped fingernail polish. The panoramas of So Fi Stadium in Los Angeles (the last stop — in August — on the North American tour) and the stage give you a sense of the massiveness of the football-field-size extravaganza. But the film doesn't capture "the concert experience." You don't feel the fans, who were beyond exuberant singing along with every single song in their inspired outfits. At the premiere Wednesday in Los Angeles, Taylor said fans were a character in the film. They were certainly characters at the concerts I attended — watching their unfettered joy was an integral part of the show live — but the film disappointingly misses that.
Hewitt: There's a case to be made that when we go to a Swift film, we want all-Swift all the time, but I'm with you. We get flashes of sobbing fans (mostly female, white, under 25) but never hear from them. The film reminded me of football games on TV — swooping cameras, long shots alternating with closeups on repeat — which makes sense since she performed in a stadium. It was almost like we were seeing an Olympics opening ceremony with Swift instead of the decathlon.
Bream: Taylor certainly has the stamina of a decathlete. Maybe 10 decathletes. The challenge for director Sam Wrench — who has done concert films with Lizzo, Billie Eilish, BTS and Brandi Carlile — was that Taylor plays to the live video cameras so fans can see her on the big screens in the stadium. Those screens often interfered with his camera shots. I found that there was too much quick-cutting early in the film; she could hardly finish one vocal phrase before the editors changed the shots. However, later in the film, things slowed down and the camerawork became noticeably more cinematic with some 360-degree sweeps. For me, it turned around on "All Too Well (10-Minute Version)," her epic replay of a failed romance.
Hewitt: Jake Gyllenhaal isn't going to love that "All Too Well." It is intense! It does take the movie a while to settle in. Playing intimate songs to 70,000 people made the delivery too same-y — "You Belong With Me" is not triumphant but she sings it as if it were, smiling throughout. Around "Love Story," which I think is the eighth number, she finally expressed some emotion. I also loved that 360-degree move on "Look What You Made Me Do" and wondered how they did it (I only caught sight of cameras three times). What I didn't love? Those dancers bugged me. Swift is so good at calibrating her expressions, knowing they're writ large on the ginormo-screens behind her, but the dancers mug like crazy. More fans, less dancers, please. Did they come off better live?
Bream: Live, the dancers are faceless, more about moves, energy and filling space to complement Taylor. Their movements, the energy of the music and the sound — which was excellent, much better in the theater than in the stadium — really makes this movie feel like you're witnessing this near-perfect concert. Did seeing the movie make you wish you had seen the show?
Hewitt: No, I think I'm good. I do appreciate Swift a lot more.
Bream: She seems to love the camera as much as the camera loves her. She knows where the video cameras are and doesn't miss an opportunity to mug with open-mouthed awe and cat-eyed glee. It's amazing that she can remember all her stage marks, lyrics and dance steps — and manage costume changes — for 3½ hours. Chris, does "Eras Tour" give you an insight into Taylor's potential as a dramatic actor?
Hewitt: For sure. The way she holds that crowd is so impressive — and it's a performance to make it appear that she's at ease doing it. (Wrench gives us a few shots from her perspective, not the audience's, for a sense of what it might feel like to have that kind of command.) She can sing, dance, act, pull off all colors of spangly leotards, get away with using the f-word four times in a PG-13 movie. She has plans to direct. Honestly, what can't she do? Did anything fall short for you, Jon?
Bream: If she puts her mind to it, she could probably learn to throw a pass to Travis Kelce. She is probably the hardest working, most visionary, most detail-oriented music figure I've encountered since Prince. Beyoncé should be in that conversation, too. As for what fell short with "Eras Tour," completists will miss the seven songs trimmed from the actual concert, particularly "Cardigan" and "The Archer," allowing the film to settle in at 168 minutes.
Hewitt: I was just glad my favorite Swift song, "Tolerate It," made the cut.
Bream: On the other hand, the movie offers two prime selections in the "surprise" acoustic songs — "Our Song," from her debut LP, which she says in the film she wrote for her ninth grade talent show, bookended with "You're on Your Own, Kid," reflecting back on her anxious teen years. Hey, speaking of Beyoncé , are you looking forward to the concert film of her Renaissance Tour coming to a theater near you in December?
Hewitt: I am now! I've actually seen Beyoncé live, so I have a sense of what she can do with a crowd, and "Renaissance" is my favorite album of hers. Dec. 1 can't come soon enough!