VERDICT: Nearly three hours of Taylor Swift in concert might be too much of a good thing for newcomers, but devotees will wish this beautifully shot and edited performance doc had been even longer.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is a juggernaut, both in the sense of its literal performance (Swift mounted a three-hour-plus concert featuring tracks from nine albums) and its financial performance (selling out mammoth venues around the globe to her utterly devoted fanbase).
That fanbase spans more generations than those of many pop artists; there are at least as many twenty- and thirty-something Swifties buying tickets for themselves as there are similarly-aged parental chaperones accompanying their young children.
And with the tour itself extending into 2024, Swift has taken over US theaters with a filmed document that will be a souvenir for those who already attended, a commercial for those thinking about catching the live show when it comes to their town, and a reasonably-priced alternative for those without the means of shelling out triple-digit concert-ticket fees.
Filmed during her multi-night stint at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium in August 2023 (mere weeks before the film hit screens), The Eras Tour is a 168-minute celebration of Swift’s career to date, one that spans back to her debut as a teenage country sensation in 2006. The live show is the musical equivalent of a painter getting a mid-career retrospective show at MoMA; the movie is the coffee-table book.
Those not already versed in Swift’s oeuvre are likely to come away impressed by her showmanship, and by the catchiness of her songs, even as the lengthy running time begins to feel like something of a burden. Viewers going in knowing all the words and all the inside-fandom nods (friendship bracelets, Taylor’s lucky number 13) will excitedly devour every moment and wish for more.
(The L.A. concerts ran almost three-and-a-half hours each, and fans and music journalists are already posting online lists of what tracks were left out of the film; look for eventual streaming and Blu-ray releases to tout the restoration of “The Archer,” “Cardigan” and other Swift hits to those versions of the film.)
Hitting theaters not long after the 4K restoration of Jonathan Demme’s 1984 concert-film classic Stop Making Sense, The Eras Tour immediately establishes itself as a completely different kind of music documentary. Where Demme’s cameras focused intimately on Talking Heads, with no audience shots popping in until the very last number, director Sam Wrench (a music video and concert-film vet) includes the mammoth SoFi audience from the get-go.
That’s fitting, because Swift also addresses the crowd throughout, sometimes with knowing, mock insincerity, and other times with a studied pattern that nonetheless reflects her gratitude for and rapport with her legions of admirers.
The film treats each Swift album as an “era” with its own look and musical style, reflected in Swift’s onstage costumes (from a variety of leading contemporary couturiers — the boots are always by Louboutin) and the impressive video projections on the enormous stage. The cabin that takes center stage for the section devoted to the Folklore album notwithstanding, the stagecraft relies upon video and hydraulics (which raise and lower various areas) to set the scene.
The giant screens in the back give the fans in the nosebleed seats the chance to see what’s going on, and The Eras Tour lets moviegoers get even closer, with several dozen camera operators getting up close and personal with Swift while also capturing her talented crew of back-up dancers from every angle, including far overhead.
The Eras Tour spotlights Swift’s musicianship as well as her showmanship: the acoustic section, where she accompanies herself on guitar and piano, could have been the entire concert if one could build a stadium tour out of such intimate moments, but the bigger-than-life stagecraft on display never overpowers the music.