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April 30, 2016

‘Life is But A Dream” offers unique glimpse of Beyoncé’s life

MCT

Fresh off conquering the Super Bowl halftime show, signing a mammoth endorsement deal with Pepsi and announcing a 40-date world tour, it’s a wonder Beyoncé has time to think.

Yet, as the saying goes, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked.” 
 After taking a year’s sabbatical to give birth and immerse herself in motherhood, Mrs. Knowles-Carter is back doing what she does best — unleashing Sasha Fierce (her stage alter ego) on her “BeyHive.”

As she embarks on rehearsals for major concerts, as well as through personal tribulations, from a traumatic miscarriage to disputes with her father, “Life is But A Dream” seeks to offer an intimate insight into the life of “Queen B.”

Named after lyrics from her one-year-old daughter’s favorite nursery rhyme “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” the documentary shows the otherwise typically allusive Knowles in each of her identities, from being a businesswoman, a singer, an actress, a mother, a wife, an activist, a woman and more specifically, a human being.            

The documentary flashes from shots of Beyoncé sitting on a couch, looking fresh-faced and natural with no make-up on, to shots of her on-stage with an army of women, to stretches of video of her pensively chatting to her MacBook.

 Then there are splices of flashback footage from intimate vacations, notably with sister Solange and Kelly Rowland — a former member of Destiny’s Child — messing around, dancing and singing to The Cardigans, as well as chronicles of her time spent with her young nephew.  Aboard a private boat, Beyoncé affectionately says in her Southern drawl to the camera she’s “experiencing utopia.”

Not only does the documentary focus on the chart-topper as an individual but also on the process of her music-making with backstage access to the technical aspects of her remarkable stage shows.

Costuming and graphics are two areas pervaded by the television event, with professionals seen striving for perfection under Beyoncé’s manicured sharp-clicking fingers. Yet even with her severity and unrelenting vision, Beyoncé is portrayed as a hardworking and fair woman on a quest to honor her fans.

Sadly, the framing of her character can feel a little contrived with present-day interviews at times seeming obviously set up to ignite a certain sentiment or to add to the benevolent image for the star. Despite this, Beyoncé’s gut-wrenching admission about her miscarriage is enough to make even the most cynical of hearted a little woeful.

Addressing the double-edged sword nature of celebrity, Beyoncé frankly says, “It’s hard to have closure,” in relation to her tragedy. She delves into the memory of hearing the heartbeat of her first child for the first time, followed by the doctor’s trip that changed everything when the heartbeat dramatically disappeared.        

Her painful confessions highlight the plight of the documentary, to express that despite the riches that come with being a global superstar, one is not immune to the heartache of life. Devastated over her loss, Beyoncé returns to the studio writing about “the saddest thing [she’s] ever been through,” later adding, “I’m a human being. I cry.” This in itself is where “Life is But A Dream” succeeds. Through the lens of Beyoncé’s experiences as a woman and a human being, viewers will find themselves sharing a commonality with someone who 99 percent of the time is completely and utterly inaccessible to the general public unless she’s on-stage.

Possibly the most poignant moment of the documentary is when Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, sing Coldplay’s “Yellow” to each other. As they blissfully look into each other’s eyes, the viewer gets a sense of the immense love shared by the official “Power Couple of 2013.”

When Beyoncé croons “Jay-Jay, I love you so,” her fountain of inspiration is revealed, crediting her husband for not only teaching her how to be a better artist, but how to be a woman, too. Making her onscreen debut, Blue Ivy Carter, the spitting image of her father, cutely coos at the camera, cementing the solidity of this “Crazy in Love” family.

“Life is But A Dream” is in no way a fly-on-the-wall, as viewers get an extremely rare look into Beyoncé’s private life. Every aspect of the television spectacle has been carefully edited and crafted to give a pre-conceived snapshot of her incredible existence; yet in this way it also cements her reputation as an artist and celebrates the success of her self-directing and managing efforts.

The documentary allows a glimpse into the enthralling life of the Beyoncé machine, while at the same time, adding to the mystery and intrigue surrounding the 31-year-old. Describing her role on Earth, she explains, “You’re playing a part in a much bigger show. And that’s what life is. It’s the greatest show on Earth.”

And as the curtains close on Beyoncé’s universe, the camera pans on the different generations of the women of her family, with her grandmother, mother and daughter taking place beside her, asserting that while she loves what she does, her primary focus is her family: her self-described foundation. Furthermore, Beyoncé sets the stage for the object of her affections and her legacy, baby Blue, who at less than a week old became the youngest person ever on a Billboard chart with her father crediting her on his hit song, “Glory.”      

Despite its complexities, “Life is But A Dream” promptly proves what was already widely acknowledged: Beyoncé is truly, as her hit song puts it, “Irreplaceable.”

Jenny Rae can be reached at jrae@student.umass.edu.

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