When Susan Boyle peacocked onto the Britain’s Got Talent stage in 2009 and proclaimed herself the next Elaine Paige, the nation sneered. And when the West Lothian lass suggestively informed Simon Cowell that such ambition was just ‘one side of her’, the nation recoiled. But when the clamour subsided and she sang the first euphonious notes of I Dreamed A Dream, Susan Boyle not only seduced and silenced her scoffers with a sensational singing voice but also held aloft a mirror to those who questioned her abilities, forcing a supercilious nation to hang its heads in shame.
Since that consequential night in Glasgow, Susan Boyle has gone on to sell over twenty million albums worldwide, elevating SuBo to the status of international singing superstar. This ‘other side’ of Susan Boyle has become as much a part of the SuBo publicity package as the voice itself, her extreme anxiety being well documented. Having previously shied away from live tours and after five years of pre-recorded shows, Boyle has decided the time has come to overcome her crippling anxieties and There’s Something About Susan follows the fragile star’s efforts to fulfil a personal ambition and perform a first ever live tour.
The results are excruciating to watch. Attempts by Susan’s entourage to transform the humble, wounded star into an assured singing diva are met with severe mental and emotional resistance. Susan’s fragile character endures relentless rehearsals, intimate grooming sessions and turbulent rides of self-loathing and self-doubt; one would severely question to whose benefit this ambition is actually fulfilling. Sympathetic interviews with managers, music associates, close friends and psychiatrists (who have diagnosed Susan with Asperger’s Syndrome) do not suggest Susan’s mental health is a priority, but rather demonstrates the cynical world of the entertainment industry and the lengths it will undertake to get a best-selling artist on stage. The SuBo machine is erratic but well oiled.
There’s Something About Susan is cruel, exploitative and voyeuristic. The highly charged build up to opening night leaves such a bitter taste that whether she actually makes it onto the stage holds little significance. Inevitably this film will appeal to many, not least those anticipating the possible car crash of a traumatised and vulnerable woman. The woman who unravels bears very little similarity to the enigmatic character who walked onto a Glaswegian stage five years ago.
We can all identify a host of entertainment stars who have engaged in public displays of fragility to undertake professional commitments. Most recently Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries and bi-polar sufferer found herself in the midst of a publicity storm due to an alleged assault of a flight attendant, leading to her arrest. Is it in the public’s interests to become so heavily involved in the private lives of our entertainment stars that mental and emotional breakdowns are as much part of the publicity package as the talent that created them? There’s Something About Susan attempts to trace the story of one woman’s courageous battle to overcome inner turmoil and realise a personal ambition.
In this case, I think this ‘one side’ of Susan is something we just didn’t need to see.
There’s Something About Susan is released DVD from 17 November