Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero
(USA, 90 min.)
Dir. Carlos López Estrada, Zac Manuel
Programme: Galas (World Premiere)
It’s a few minutes before show time, and Lil Nas X needs to poop. Lil Nas X, aka Montero Lamar Hill, gets candid backstage during preparations for his Long Live Montero tour. Nas, at 24 years old, might be TMI-ing a bit too much for some viewers, but his unfiltered perspective on bowel movements exemplifies his enthusiasm for his first-ever tour. Pooping, Nas says, is going to happen either way. One should simply get it out of the pipeline pre-show instead of letting nature take its course. Accidents can happen while surrounded by a dozen ripped dancers on stage before thousands of fans. Such are the thoughts of young stars.
Don’t think that the singer is going to settle for number two, though, when it comes to documentaries chronicling his tour. Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero captures the infectious energy that is Lil Nas X. Directors Carlos López Estrada (Summertime) and Zac Manuel (This Body) give the young star a grand concert doc treatment as they take their cameras along for the ride during the Long Live Montero tour.
The doc sits comfortably within a growing stream of Millennial and Gen Z music docs: it’s inevitably limited and favourable given the subject’s youth and the relative freshness of his career. However, as a portrait of an artist in the process of becoming, it’s a jubilant jolt of queer joy. Fans might be surprised as X grooves to “Free” by Deniece Williams and carries Slush the plush husky, his prized fur baby, along with him throughout the tour. He is certainly comfortable with the camera, and the camera loves him.
On the Rise
The doc uses a three-act structure to highlight Lil Nas X’s quick metamorphosis. Electric song performances play out in full, highlighting the unique space he carves for himself as a Black queer performing straddling genres including country and hip-hop. The film cuts back and forth to a master interview with Nas in which he lies snuggly in his bed with Slush and a pillow while reflecting upon his career. The intimate setting is something in the fashion of In Bed with Madonna, which further lets the doc own its loyalty to the queer audience.
The story tells how Nas quickly shot to fame after posting music online and gambling his future on pursuing music instead of finishing college. It helps that his first hit, “Old Town Road,” stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for a record 19-weeks. Bridging genres and cultures, his music is an exploratory a fusion or collision that explains his wide appeal and meteoric rise. Moreover, Nas speaks openly about coming out while his song was atop the charts, which further positioned him as a rarity in pop music. Few gay Black cowboys can take the stage in pink sequined boots and pull it off.
His family plays a key role in the film with Nas sharing his parents’ journey towards accepting his sexuality. However, Nas admits that some members, particularly his step-mother, are slower to accept his expression of his sexuality. Favouring flamboyant, fierce, and fabulous gender-bending outfits that shout unrepentant gay pride, Nas knows that greeting his family in a skirt and a Pride t-shirt is a risky choice. It pays off, and the family enjoys a night at the roller rink after a concert, but Nas admits that it’s frustrating to see his family only when he picks up the bill.
Fans, Haters, and Pizza
López Estrada and Manuel do very well to capture the spark of youth that makes Lil Nas X extremely popular and seemingly unstoppable. The doc observes his genuine emotion when he realizes how many people pack the house to watch him perform. It isn’t until all the phones light up that it hits him. The film taps into his savvy use of social media, great sense of humour, and willingness to clap back at critics with good humour that helped endear him to fans.
At the same time, Lil Nas X has his haters, and he takes them in stride. For example, the film features many of the relatively sparse and ineffectual protests outside his concerts by religious zealots. They preach that Lil Nas X is turning kids gay. He simply responds by sending them pizza to tide them over whilst picketing, showing the kindness they fail to offer him. (But with pineapple to deliver it with a hint of shade!)
This positive energy fuels and inspire his fans, who span generations. The camera introduces many concertgoers clad in glitter, sequins, crop tops, and all sorts of fabulous looks that complement the star’s glam rock ensembles. Long Live Montero also gives Lil Nas X’s fans confessional moments before the camera. Participants offer advice to young queer people. Some of them take a cue from Drag Race and give guidance to their younger selves. Others encourage people to be fearless and embrace love. The film echoes them in the music.
Message in the Music
Smart editing weaves the singer’s story within musical performances that accentuate the themes. Highlights include the anthemic love call “That’s What I Want” when Nas talks about taking the heat from homophobes and seeing how his music empowers LGBTQ youths. The concert performance sees a fun dramatic play between Lil Nas X and one of the dancers. They pantomime a seductive will-they-or-won’t-they before ending the number with a big theatrical smooch.
Similarly, the showstopper of the film is the smash hit “Call Me By Your Name,” which plays late in the doc and highlights how Lil Nas X evolved from young upstart to full-fledged queer icon. The performance, the song, and the story that intersects it is a loud and proud call for viewers to be their authentic selves. It’s also just a joy to watch as the singer puts on one heck of a show with more fearless costume changers than a Diana Ross half-time show at the Super Bowl.
López Estrada and Manuel capture these performance with verve and swagger, making Long Live Montero an energetic cinematic showstopper. Moreover, the film gives extra space to Nas’s dancers to share his story, extending the portrait of Black gay experiences, which are still rare on screen. As an artist doc, it’s a welcome snapshot of what it means to be a singular voice, own every best aspect of oneself, and channel that knowledge into positive vibes that inspire fans worldwide. Long live Montero, indeed!
Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.