Review of Beyonce’s HBO Documentary, ‘Life is But a Dream’

It’s almost a little unfair to call Beyonce’s HBO special, “Life is But a Dream,” a documentary. When one thinks about “celebrity documentaries,” they usually envision a camera crew following a starlet as she hops from country to country on a sold-out world tour. Other stars have certainly put out films like this. Katie Perry had a box office hit on her hands with her part-documentary part-concert film “Part of Me,” and Ke$ha has an upcoming docudrama series on MTV entitled “My Crazy Beautiful Life.”

Unlike Perry and Ke$ha’s films, “Life is But a Dream” isn’t made up of footage taken by a camera crew. Rather, it’s comprised of a lot of footage that Beyonce shot on her own. Whether she’s showing off her small baby bump in front of her web cam or recording her time in the recording studio with a Handycam, Beyonce is the driving force behind the direction of the footage in this film. In fact, she is credited as the film’s director.

The reason it’s important to point this out is because stars haven’t always had success with putting out a project of this style. Britney Spears humiliated herself with her reality series “Chaotic,” a show entirely made up of footage that Spears shot herself. Scenes in “Chaotic” depicted Spears and her then-fiance Kevin Federline getting drunk, having downright dim-witted conversations and bickering over petty nothingness. The cringe-worthy moments were detrimental to Spears’ career and served as evidence that the average pop star probably needs the guidance of a film crew and director.

There were a hundred and one reasons why, then, that “Life is But a Dream” could have been an utter disaster. However, the potentially dangerous technique of creating a film from home footage turned out to be a brilliant move for Beyonce. The footage she presents to viewers artfully toes the line between revealing and over-share. She shows private moments between herself and mogul husband Jay-Z, yet the audience never feels as if they are privy to anything too intimate. She shares her fears and apprehensions about her struggles with becoming a mother, makeup-free and stripped down, in front of her laptop’s camera. These confessions feel personal, but you never get the feeling that she’ll regret them.

“[I need to] stop pretending I have it all together,” Beyonce says in the film. “[If] I’m scared – be scared. Allow it. Release it. Move on.” This is indeed a film where Beyonce confirms that she isn’t like many of her contemporaries. Beyonce isn’t a Spears, she’s a Madonna. She isn’t the young teenager we first met in Destiny’s Child, but rather a competent business woman who is capable of overseeing what of herself is and is not presented to the public. She doesn’t need a director; she can direct herself.

Of course, fans would be disappointed if a Beyonce movie was free of song and dance. Interview and personal footage is broken up by live performances, as expected, and they do not disappoint. While those who aren’t die-hard fans may become a bit bored with the nonstop vocal runs that stretch three minute songs into nine minutes when performed live, most will thoroughly enjoy these portions of the film. Beyonce is undoubtedly a spectacularly talented live performer and these performances serve to truly cement that fact to viewers.

“Life is But a Dream” is currently available for rental on HBO GO On Demand.

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