If I learned anything from watching HBO’s special, Beyonce: Life is But a Dream, it’s that Beyonce still questions her role and responsibilities as an international superstar. These quandaries, or perceived dilemmas serve as the driving theme of this so-called “documentary” on the life of a woman who has seen fame and fortune beyond anything we could ever imagine.
I think its safe to say most approached this project expecting to see the story of a young girl who’s tremendous drive and remarkable work ethic made her the woman, the icon, the star, the wife and the mother she is today. Instead, we mostly saw the deep, personal confessions of a larger-than-life phenomenon appearing more vulnerable that she’s ever allowed the public to witness. Through all the insecurities, anxieties, self-doubts, vulnerabilities, gripes and grievances, does Beyonce deserve any of our sympathy? More importantly, is that what she’s asking for?
The documentary stars out innocently enough, with Beyonce narrating trivial childhood memories as we see footage of her and her sister frolicking about their old home. It’s significant to note that the one they call Queen B did not come from a life of poverty or drawbacks. Born and raised in Texas, Dad Matthew Knowles was a business-savvy medical-equipment salesman while Mom Tina Knowles owned her own hair saloon. In fact, the famously private and reserved superstar first invites us into her life with recollections of firing her father as her manager. As she does many times throughout the hour and a half long show, Beyonce speaks to us through her computer’s camera. Treating it like a video diary, Beyonce delivers her stories and revelations looking pail and gloomy. While most times this comes off as ingenious, as if to appear more “human” and accessible, the firing of her father did play a significant part in declaring her independence. It was one of the few moments where Beyonce came off as relatable, taking control of her life on her own terms, despite the rift it put on her relationship with her father.
From that point on, Beyonce presents herself, whether deliberately or not, as a celebrity grappling with fame while attempting to stay grounded. The documentary consists of a combination of home videos (albeit a few), footage of the recording studio, concerts, rehearsals and the computer diaries. Much of the narration over these recordings come from a seemingly conventional interview, where Beyonce sits curled up on a lavish white couch, her hair done up and sporting a modest white top with black pants. But if Beyonce’s primary purpose of this project was to show a woman who despite her life of royalty can still be human, she fails to garner my compassion. In one her many video diaries/confessions, Beyonce looks wide-eyed into the camera, almost shivering as she proclaims “Stop pretending that I have it all together. And if I’m scared, be scared. Allow it. Release it. Move on.” Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the smallest violin playing just for you, Bey.
Fortunately, the documentary is not without some incredibly tender moments. Beyonce discusses her heart-wrenching experience of the miscarriage she experienced before Blue Ivy Carter. Her therapy consisted of studio time, prompting her to begin recording the first songs off her album 4. We are also treated to the now-famous VMA show where with one rub of the belly, Beyonce introduces Blue Ivy to the world. The footage of Beyonce and husband Jay-Z embracing backstage made my heart skip a beat. Although they might be perceived as the ultimate Hollywood power couple, their relationship appears genuine and real. “I just pray that Jay and I stay a team, cuz right now we are really connected, and really are communicating well, and completely understand each other, support each other, need each other. This baby has made me love him more than I ever though I could love another human being.” When not talking about her troubles with juggling fame and her own humility, Beyonce’s documentary shows a woman who loves her husband, her son, her family and her fans. That’s the Beyonce that has the generosity and humbleness to finally let us in to her life. That’s the Beyonce we love.
In the end, it’s clear Beyonce truly remains grateful for what life has given her. But like most celebrities, we’re left wondering if she has any right to complain about the bad that comes with the good. In her own words, Beyonce explains that “People see celebrities and they seem like their life is great and they have money and fame and fans, and it’s almost like you can’t touch them. But I’m a human being. I cry, I’m extremely sensitive and my feelings get hurt and I get scared and I get nervous, just like everyone else.” Well Beyonce, you’re not like everyone else in terms of money, lifestyle, fame and everyday hardships that accompany life. You are however like everyone else when you show yourself as a daughter, a sister, a wife and a mother. That is the only place where this “documentary” of sorts truly shines.
In a fitting and excellent ending, Beyonce justifiably talks about the life-altering experience of welcoming another life into this world. It’s once again a breathtaking account of a famous mom willing to share her sentiments on motherhood. For a moment, Beyonce, the international superstar does appear to be human: “It was amazing. It was amazing! I can’t believe it. I really can’t. This was life…there’s something so relieving about life taking over you like that. You’re playing a part in a much bigger show. And that’s what life is, it’s the greatest show on earth.”
2.5 out of 4 stars.