Review: HBO's new Beyoncé documentary “Life Is But a Dream” - Reverb

New Beyoncé documentary filled with clichés about celebrity

Beyonce lip-synched the national anthem at Obama's inauguration, according to the New York Times. A photo of the singer at the inauguration. Beyonce performs the National Anthem during the public ceremonial inauguration for U.S. President Barack Obama on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

HBO’s new Beyonce documentary is filled with clichés about being a celebrity. Beyonce performs the National Anthem during the public ceremonial inauguration for U.S. President Barack Obama on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In the same way some actors are better not popping off about their own psychological makeup on the talk-show circuit, some pop stars may be better unexplored in highly personal, lavishly produced autobiographical films.

Beyoncé Knowles has conquered every medium, from the concert stage to feature films and advertising campaigns. She has created stunning song-and-dance spectaculars, she is able to electrify giant stadiums and national TV audiences. Having lived so large for so long, she evidently felt it was time she starred in her own introspective Beyoncé documentary.

“Life Is But a Dream,” directed and executive produced by the superstar and premiering Saturday on HBO, is a blend of performances, interviews and backstage peeks at the life of a diva.

The Houston-reared Knowles refers to herself as a celebrity a few too many times for comfort. She speaks of “my craft” and “my art” in a way that most Hollywood types

know makes them sound pretentious. And for a woman still able to wow the Super Bowl halftime audience, it seems a tad premature to be offering this sort of retrospective.

She talks in depth about her anxieties, yet when she’s performing, undeniable power and sexuality beam through.

From childhood to multiple Grammy wins to entrepreneurial success, Beyoncé confides her insecurities and goals over the course of 90 minutes. Even at that length, there’s nothing about her serenading the Obamas with “At Last” at the first inauguration, little about about her Destiny’s Child history, not much about her husband Jay-Z except her love for him.

Home movies from her girlhood launch the film, segueing into her troubles separating from her father’s management and oversight.

At ease and gorgeous on a sofa in her home, she talks about her goal of achieving independence despite her lack of confidence.

“I’m truly an artist in the studio,” she says.

Outside her home, she seems ill at ease. She routinely ducks behind body guards going in and out of public spaces and seems almost fragile until she takes command, barking orders in the control room before a show.

Once onstage, she owns the world.

From her miscarriage to the famous reveal of the “baby bump” on the MTV Awards to the birth of her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, in January 2012, the indulgent film allows the artist to dwell on her lot in life.

She feels so vulnerable. She is so sensitive. Child birth was a sublime, transcendent experience. OK, let’s have some more singing.

Again and again she brings the focus around to faith and wants to spread the word.

“God is real,” she says.

The yin and yang of stardom are on display here: The footage from her in concert is breathtaking. The cliches from her interviews are cringe-inducing.

“My life is a journey,” she says.

Yes, you’re a superstar with a big heart.

Next time, maybe a concert film.

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Joanne Ostrow is the Denver Post Television Critic.

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  • Candy Reid

    look at me, i’m beyonce, i’m a superstar… me, me, me, me, me!

    • MJ Fan

      I 2nd that notion.

  • MJ Fan

    I find it interesting that Beyoncé wants to be thought in the light of the Icons Madonna, Mariah, Michael, and Prince ect. Yet if you notice none of the Icons had to tell people they were great they just let their music and longevity do it for them. Obviously she is worried about something if she keeps having to tell us she’s great on a continual bases.

  • Shareen

    Beyonce “Life
    is But a Dream’ HBO Documentary

    At first I concluded that this chick is so self
    indulged she made it from an angle of a personal diary seeing very
    little interaction with her and other people, some really unnecessary scenes
    of other random peoples characters. However as it progressed and she emphasised
    her point of not wanting people in her business and how she feels about
    celebrity culture and not knowing how much to share with her fans, I began to
    feel the style it was made in was justified. She has protected herself from
    celebrity culture like no other and it’s admirable. Also the show where she
    complains about the stage not being all white in the background I watched that
    full performance a few weeks ago and became a massive fan instantly. Her voice
    still doesn’t captivate me but on a performance level she is freaking
    outstanding and I loved every song that I barely knew. To now learn that all
    her latest music is her own personal venture away from her dad, again I’m
    really admirable. With my latest obsession with Heidi and Spencer who are
    reality stars who want people in their business for having no specific talent I
    now conclude there is room for the likes of them even more so. Bring on reality
    stars that love people in their business and let us let true artist like
    Beyonce be artist. I also thought of how this documentary is going to
    look in years to come and I love it, it’s pure class and maintains her dignity.
    I was shocked by how stiff and rude she was with the people that work alongside
    her (real Diva) but she immediately explained and I can I relate to that
    statement about politeness and business not matching. I did wonder though if
    her girly perception of life is like bla bla bla to Jay Z as she
    clearly doesn’t have a really significant hardship type story to tell that
    people can relate to but I guess for a thug that’s a perfect wifey – lol and
    naturally I love her passion for God and the testimony of Jesus cause on that
    level I can relate. Also after watching that recent performance that
    made me an instant fan, I really was thinking “is she a man hater, why is
    she so lyrically geared to Independent women” etc, and again she explained
    that in a nutshell; sisterhood is her philosophy in life and I like
    and respect that. Beyonce clearly also loves Jay Z madly and I wouldn’t be
    surprised if that has caused a feud with her and her family
    especially as she gives him credit for her breaking away and becoming her own
    true artist and I’d imagine her parents were real possessive about
    her career. So overall I enjoyed it, got a bigger insight into who she is and I
    love Beyonce!