Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling Now, review: fearlessly frank admissions from Britain's unlikeliest pop star
“The way I write songs is I sit at the piano for hours and I hate myself,” claims singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi in a new Netflix documentary. “My twitch gets physically worse, it starts to hurt, my back starts to kill me, but I’ve gotta keep doing it.” After getting up close and (very) personal with this charming, articulate and talented young man in How I’m Feeling Now (Netflix), I defy any viewer not to end up rooting for Capaldi to overcome his demons and knock out yet another sentimental power ballad about the general misery of his existence.
Capaldi is a music industry anomaly. He is unkempt, sweary, bawdy and comically mischievous, with physical twitches that worsen with anxiety. Yet armed with a hugely soulful voice and a gift for weepily emotional balladry, he has become a multi-billion streaming generational superstar. His 2019 debut, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, was the bestselling album in Britain for two years running. The documentary follows Capaldi as he returns to his modest family home in Bathgate, West Lothian to sit in a garden shed and write a second album to consolidate his success. But with the pandemic forcing life to a standstill and internal pressures mounting, the physical manifestations of Capaldi’s mental health problems threaten to derail him completely. “I’ve never been more insecure in my life than I am now,” he confesses.
The comically impish and frankly outspoken instincts that have served Capaldi so well in the social media age prove a gift for a documentarian. This film is not so much warts and all as twitches, farts, curses and everything else. Are you ready for a pop star picking up underpants from his bedroom floor, giving them a quick sniff and cheerfully announcing “I think they’re clean?” Put it this way: a Beyoncé-style hagiography it is not.
Director Joe Pearlman made 2018’s brilliant Bros: When the Screaming Stops and manages a similar trick here, locating humour and pathos in the tension between ordinariness and fame. Capaldi can be very funny, but he is also fearlessly honest. Prescribed pills to manage his twitching, he confesses: “They’re not really doing anything, except I can’t get a hard on to save my life.”
The modern music machine does not come across particularly well, with Capaldi revolving between supplicatory teams of producers, all trying to consolidate his instinctive abilities into a repeatable pop formula. Sessions grind endlessly on in pursuit of an elusive sure-fire hit. “You’ve got 120 sad songs to pick from,” notes Bastille’s Dan Smith, as they attempt to write yet another one.
At least Capaldi has his earthy Scottish parents to provide support that is as unwavering as it is unflattering. “It’s s--te,” his dad announces of Capaldi’s latest demo. “It’s not one of your better ones,” agrees his mum. But it is their deep understanding of his character that eventually compels Capaldi to seek help for his condition, pushing the film towards a redemptive conclusion.
Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling Now streams on Netflix from April 5