Beyonce is the thinking woman’s celebrity. She appeals on all levels: she’s gorgeous, talented, and not in your face.
Despite their enormous fame, she and well-known husband, rap mogul Jay Z, have fiercely protected their privacy. They’ve refused to speak about their relationship publicly and -– in the age of overexposure– managed to keep their wedding and two pregnancies under the radar.
I like her music, especially its message of women empowerment. I’ve been known to vigorously shout her “who-needs-men” lyrics at top volume in the sanctity of my minivan. Plus she kicked ass at the Super Bowl, and quite possibly blew out the stadium lights with her electricity.
So I was curious about her 90-minute documentary, “Life is But a Dream,” that debuted on HBO this weekend.
Bey Bey did not disappoint.
The film—which follows her over a period of about three years—covers her making an album and performing in several huge venues all over the world. There’s some manufactured backstage drama involving support staff but it’s inconsequential. As soon as Beyonce leaves the screen, you want her back.
She’s amazing eye candy on stage. Inventive costumes, an endless parade of fabulous hairstyles, and impressive dance moves. And so much energy. She must have broken a record for most shimmy and shakes per second.
But it’s the personal stories behind the scenes that will grab you.
She keeps a video diary on her computer and often appears sans makeup, showing raw emotion about her work and life experiences. Part of the reason she wanted to do the film after avoiding discussing her personal life for so long is to let fans know she’s not just a paparazzi photo, and has the same fears, hurt, and insecurities as most people.
The film made news when Beyonce revealed she had a miscarriage before eventually having her daughter Blue Ivy in 2012. She describes hearing her baby’s heartbeat the first time she was pregnant as the most beautiful music she ever heard. When the heartbeat disappeared, she recorded what she calls the saddest song she’d ever written as a form of therapy to get through her pain.
The way she talks about the joy and fragility of her second pregnancy exposes a vulnerability that’s relatable and grounding. She convincingly debunks rumors she used a surrogate, saying she couldn’t wait to experience the excitement of giving birth. She speaks honestly throughout the doc and I found her deeply spiritual, without being preachy or self-absorbed.
Watching her recording songs feels like eavesdropping on an intimate moment. Her video confessionals and the few interactions with Jay Z fascinated me. She obviously adores him. There’s one brief home video of a speech she made to him on his birthday in 2006 that’s cozy and sweet.
While she’s totally out there, Jay Z makes a few very brief appearances and maybe speaks 5 words total. I wanted to see more, but also respect that she’s still preserving boundaries.
It may sound ridiculous to make a documentary about your life and still attempt to set limits, but Beyonce manages to do it. She shows video of her pregnant body, but only in almost animated silhouette. She finally invites the world for a look at her daughter, but only for a few moments at the end of the film. She finds a balance between sharing and keeping some things for herself.
What resonated most with me is when she talked about staying humble while honoring her fans, and staying current while being true to her soul and artistic evolution.
The film is a beacon of light in the slimy world of celebrity culture. Beyonce is a celebrity you can safely admire and a woman with an inspiring story to tell.