Vulture's Amanda Dobbins has a good piece about reaction to Beyonce's Life Is But A Dream--the said reaction being that while the HBO doc excels at showing her in all her ultimate warrior fierceness, it is too glossy and reveals little about its subject other than her relentless perfectionism.
A choice excerpt:
"We expect to see our pop stars fade, even as we shame them for it. We want Britney to fall apart again on national television. We want to lecture Rihanna about her romantic choices. We want unfiltered and "real" celebrity access until we get it, and then we want to punish the celebrities for it, because humanity is a pop-star sin, too.
Beyoncé is not famous because she's good at Twitter (Beyoncé has tweeted four times); she is famous because she can sprint around a stadium while belting "Halo," because she can shake her hair like a bobble-head doll and sing "Run the World" simultaneously, because she does the work ... If it requires a Monica-from-Friends level of control to achieve like Beyoncé does, then so be it. Perfectionism serves Beyoncé well."
While I agree that people love to watch pop stars crash and burn, I don't think the all criticism of Life Is But A Dream, and of Beyonce's image, is solely about that. For the record, I enjoyed the documentary, and did feel at some points I was gaining a bit of insight into Beyonce--the tale of her miscarriage being an obvious, gut-wrenching one, as well as her thoughts on men, women, money and power and parting ways with her father.
But that's just it; I only felt as if I were getting a bit of insight. For instance, Beyonce says she needed her dad back, which is why she let him go as her manager, but did not get maintain her relationship with him. I didn't expect her to give the full blow-by-blow (the affair, the baby out of wedlock, the divorce,etc.) However, I did expect more of an answer as to why she felt she didn't get him back, especially since a shot of him holding Blue Ivy is included later in the documentary.
Her relationship with Jay-Z, which gave life to some genuinely sweet moments--like the couple singing Coldplay's "Yellow"--left a lot of room for exploration. Did her unstoppable drive and dedication to her career ever cause them to struggle? What about their age difference or the vastly different ways they grew up? The Marcy projects and the suburbs of Houston aren't exactly a hop, skip and a jump away. How does she feel about some of his songs that are more than a little misogynistic ("Big Pimpin," and "Can I Get A..." come to mind)? How did she feel about 4's commercial performance (which wasn't bad, but not as great as previous albums)? These are not gossipy innuendos designed to dig up dirt. They are valid questions to aspects of Beyonce's life, aspects she has opened up for the purpose of this film.
Compare Life Is But A Dream to say, Madonna's Truth Or Dare, a self-produced doc by another self-proclaimed control freak and perfectionist. While I don't believe I'm getting a deep, uncensored glimpse at "the real Madonna (or at least who she was in 1990)" when viewing it, there are moments--feeling the tension as she meets her father and step-mother backstage, seeing her squirm when an old friend asks her to be the godmother of her unborn child, hearing her talk shit about her brother's alcoholism with her other brother Christopher (who would go on to betray her), visiting her mother's grave, ripping her top off, tearing up in the middle of a pre-show prayer when mentioning a friend who died of AIDS, coldly chuckling when she first hears her makeup artist may have been date raped, partying with her gay dancers, confessing the then love of her life was Sean Penn--that make me think I'm getting, if not a completely honest portrait of her, then at least a fragment of her true personality, good, bad and indifferent.
There are not nearly enough of those moments in Life Is But A Dream. Even when Beyonce (metaphorically) lets her hair down and laughingly lets a few four letter words fly after messing up a take in the studio and we witness her ticks--like repeating the first word of the line she might forget before singing--we cut back to Beyonce holding court on the couch before we can fully get immersed in her process. Holding court over stage rehearsals, reviewing performance tapes, busting out choreography with lightning quick precision in a hotel hallway is great. But we already know Bey is a great dancer and overseer of Beyonce Inc. Being highly ambitious and great at her craft--a perfectionist if you will-- makes for a great performer and possibly the perfect pop star, but only a good documentary.
What are your thoughts on Life Is But A Dream?
And for another take on both the doc, and how Beyonce's independent, overachiever streak has impacted her music, check out Nitsuh Abebe's piece here.