We could talk, I suppose, about all Taylor Swift’s done for the economy, friendship bracelets, seismology and Travis Kelce. But her greatest nonmusical achievement is the innocuous art she’s made of the gape. On a 50-foot screen, the various apertures of her mouth constitute a spectacle. There’s the “Who? Me?,” the “yeah I said it,” the “ouch,” the “ooooo,” the “gosh golly” and the “Sally Field wins another Oscar.” Hers is the story of “oh.”
That glee is a reason to be happy about the movie that’s been assembled from her live show — “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which was shot at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, the final stop on the tour’s first leg. “Happy” because it’s recorded what a gladdening agent Swift can be on a stage and the stamina summoned to power that agency for the better part of three hours. The movie’s about 165 minutes long, and she’s as ebullient descending into the stage, for her farewell, as she is in the opening minutes magically materializing upon it. The first words she speaks to the 70,000 people hooting for her is, “Oh hi!,” as if SoFi were a shower we’d caught her singing in.
In June, when Swift landed at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the pushing and screaming — by five high schoolers — to my immediate rear ceased at about the two-hour mark. I turned to check on the state of their ecstasy and found a pile of fatigue — the human version of that crumpled face emoji. Her glee had outlasted theirs, her zing had them zung. If nothing else, this movie’s a monument to that: Swift’s illusion of ease. She doesn’t work as physically hard or as loosely or hydraulically as her dancers. She’s not a Jackson. And she doesn’t sing as enormously or as exquisitely as a Streisand, Carey, Dion or Knowles-Carter. Nor is her show — produced as discrete segments devoted to nine of Swift’s 10 albums — the cultural gymnasium Madonna requires. Swift plays to her enhanced strengths: candied pitch, arresting stature, toothsome songwriting, winking, the very idea of play. Not far into things, right around “Cruel Summer,” she announces that we’ve encountered “the very first bridge of the evening.” There are more to come, because not since Lionel Richie has a major pop star so enjoyed the pleasure in the might of her bridgecraft.
It wasn’t until this movie that Swift’s 10-minute breakup ballad “All Too Well,” which she performs alone downstage in a glittering robe and an acoustic guitar, struck me as an achievement of genuine theater. Rapt in a movie theater, I felt the song’s heart-wrung pique in new a way. Some of that comes from watching Swift’s face register the ache, tsking recrimination. The rest comes from the song pooling outward into anthem territory. Live, it’s like watching someone woodwork “American Pie” until it resembles “Purple Rain.”