Kacey Musgraves interprets heartbreak as chaotic, glamorous fever dream with star-crossed
One-time Austinite takes control of her own story in film debut
By Abby Johnston,
9:00AM, Fri. Sep. 10, 2021
The love story didn’t end well. And if that fact was somehow missed in the headlines, the first minute of Kacey Musgraves’ star-crossed gave it away.
Like the accompanying album, Musgraves’ film evokes Shakespearean tragedy to set the tone. In the opening scene, actress Diane Venora watches the end of 1968’s Romeo and Juliet on a busted TV in a dressing room, as showgirls ready themselves in a flurry of wigs and makeup brushes around her.
As Juliet grabs the happy dagger and turns it on herself, Venora exhales cigarette smoke: “Mm, that’s a shame,” she says, pushing her cherry red lips into a pout heavy with condescension. (Venora herself played a Capulet in the 1996 Romeo and Juliet, the first of a few easter eggs in star-crossed.)
That moment demonstrated the creative flexibility Musgraves had in releasing star-crossed – her fourth album and debut as a filmmaker. The narrative around her music was already set: The followup to 2018’s triumphant Golden Hour, largely a chronicle of newlywed bliss, would be her first material post-split from Ruston Kelly, the very man who inspired those fan favorites. This was, inevitably, Musgraves’ divorce album, but the film also offered a chance for the singer to take control of her own story – to visually showcase her take on it.
star-crossed is a chaotic, glamorous fever dream. Musgraves, the film’s executive producer and co-writer, and director Bardia Zeinali created a heartbreak feature told in three parts over 45 minutes, set to the bulk of the tracks from the accompanying album.
The first act captures the push-pull between independence and monogamy. In one scene, Musgraves and her gang of self-described “anti-matrimonials” (rapper Princess Nokia, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Symone and actress Victoria Pedretti) are storming a discount wedding dress shop with medieval weapons and armor as “Simple Times” – Musgraves’ hope to eject herself from adult responsibilities – blares on the soundtrack and in the mall speakers. Directly after, Musgraves joins a robotic Stepford-esque gaggle. In matching yellow dresses and white headbands, they iron in unison and set tables, learning how to be a “Good Wife,” a plaintive pop cut about the internal and external pressures on women in heterosexual relationships.
Those whirlwind scenes come to a standstill in the second act. Musgraves sings single “Justified” as she drives alone, doing little else but doing what you do on the open road: letting thoughts wander as vistas change. Until, crash: Distracted, she collides with another vehicle. We’re spared the gore. As the shot changes to show the wreckage, red flowers, rather than blood, pour out of the car. Musgraves lies around in plastic body parts, her disembodied head still singing “Camera Roll,” warning not to scroll too far back in all the memories your phone holds. (Don’t worry: Schitt’s Creek patriarch Eugene Levy is there at the ER to piece her back together – the strangest cameo in the most on-the-nose sequence.)
And in the third act? There’s the rebirth we all hope for, which Musgraves reaches through an unidentified pill. She’s back in a church, clearly, but the slow reveal, set to the disco-pulsing “There is a Light” is that her white micro dress is fit for a dance party, not a walk down the aisle. That’s capped with her arresting on-stage performance of Violeta Parra’s “Gracias a la Vida,” that may or may not have ended with a David Lynch reference. By that point, your head is swimming.
Audiences will glean their own interpretations from both iterations of star-crossed. Its visual journey, now streaming on Paramount+, indeed raises plenty of questions. At the very least, as conveyed by Musgraves at its Nashville premiere, the woman who lived through it got to show her interpretation, in all its complexity and messiness: "I'm really thankful for the opportunity to transform trauma into beauty.”