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‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ Review: A Sometimes Exhausting, Often Exhilarating, Always Impressively Immersive Screen Experience

You probably don’t need this review to tell you if you’ll enjoy Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour as a movie. You can surely already guess, based on how much you enjoyed (or think you might have enjoyed) Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour as a concert. Because this movie is exactly no more and no less than what it says on the tin: a filmed version of Swift’s record-breaking show, captured over three performances in Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium. Aside from a few onstage “bloopers” over the closing credits, there’s next to nothing in the way of supplementary material — no interviews, no behind-the-scenes footage, no commentary on what any of this means.

But what a concert it is — and what an experience it makes, even in the relatively modest confines of a movie theater.

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As has been exhaustively documented over the past seven months, the Eras Tour is as big as they come, in just about every sense imaginable: the stage show, which is currently on track to become the most lucrative tour of all time, is a three-and-a-half-hour extravaganza featuring over three dozen songs spanning the entire career of one of the most successful musicians of all time, at precisely the moment when she finds herself at the very peak of her fame and popularity. (Even the NFL is kowtowing to her influence these days, obsessing over her VIP-suite appearances to support rumored boyfriend Travis Kelce.)

The movie, directed by Sam Wrench, is only slightly more modest. Clocking in at just under three hours, it skips a handful of songs, including “The Archer” and “Cardigan.” But what remains is more than enough to leave the most hard-core Swiftie spent with delight.

At my premiere screening, The Eras Tour played less like a film than an extension of the concert experience: Audience members sang along and danced in the aisle and cheered so loudly I often couldn’t tell where the roar of the crowd onscreen ended and the roar of the crowd in the theater began. Even with a few mellower numbers sprinkled in throughout the set — most of them from Folklore and Evermore — I ended the movie exhausted from all the sensory overload.

By contrast, Swift never seems to tire throughout the entire three hours. She opens her marathon set with the eminently sing-along-able “Cruel Summer” and rides that energy all the way up through the buoyant finale, “Karma.” Were it not for the most superficial signs of exertion — her hair growing increasingly wavy with sweat and movement, her mascara smudging ever so slightly — you’d never know three hours of nonstop singing and dancing had transpired in between.

But then, only an overachiever like Swift would think to sing about feeling like she “did all the extra credit then got graded on a curve,” as she does in “Bejeweled.” The Eras Tour divides itself neatly into nine sections corresponding to nine of her albums: Lover (2019), Fearless (2008), Evermore (2020), Reputation (2017), Speak Now (2010), Red (2012), Folklore (2020), 1989 (2014) and Midnights (2022), in that order. (Her 2006 self-titled debut is represented here via “Our Song” one of the two acoustic “surprise songs” that Swift switches up every night of her tour.) Each segment feels like a mini-concert on its own, complete with its own visual language — Folklore is a flowy white dress and a moss-covered home set captured in lingering close-ups, Reputation is a snake-covered bodysuit and black-and-white graphics in purposefully choppy edits.

To see all the chapters of her career laid out next to each other is to marvel at how much she’s transformed herself over the years. During “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift winds past dancers dressed as Taylors from other eras. In their plexiglass boxes, they look like nothing so much as an array of Barbies — and like Barbie’s, Swift’s longevity seems to be rooted in her ability to reinvent herself over and over, and to make all of these contradictory selves add up to a single idealized whole.

But just as interesting is what hasn’t changed about her. Whether she’s presenting herself as a fresh-faced country gal or an embittered outcast, Swift’s strength as a musician has always resided not in her voice (pretty though hardly virtuosic) but in her songwriting. The Eras Tour features a hell of a flex on that front in the 10-minute version of “All Too Well.” The staging has been stripped down to almost nothing — no twirling dancers or elaborate sets or splashy videos distract from Swift and her guitar, alone in the center of a giant stage. Yet her words, and her impassioned delivery of them, prove more than enough to make her accounting of a doomed love affair feel as vivid and intimate as our own deepest memories.

Likewise, though Swift leaves the more complicated choreography to her backup dancers, she’s a master of self-presentation. After nearly two decades under public scrutiny, she knows precisely how to wink or smirk or bend her spine to make her look exactly as flirty or mischievous or sexy as she needs to be. More crucially, she knows how to embody the many contradictions demanded of her. The woman on stage manages to be both powerful enough to make a crowd scream themselves hoarse with the point of a finger, and so modest that she claims to feel guilty even asking us to let her sing one more song before she goes. She’s been a successful musician longer than she’s been an adult, but still gushes at her premiere that “I can’t believe I get to do music as a career.” Whether this humility is genuine is beside the point. What matters is that she performs it seamlessly enough that the people who want to believe it is, can.

That goes, too, for what might be her most touching contradiction. Swift is a singer-songwriter who’s built her career on love songs, and yet her truest love seems not to be any of her much-discussed celebrity boyfriends but all of us. During “Lover,” Swift pleads to “always be this close, forever and ever” and swears “to be overdramatic and true to my lover.” But as dancers sway two by two around the stage, Swift stands alone. She sings it smiling right at the camera — which is to say, right at us.

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