Review: ‘Renaissance’ concert film is a love letter from Beyonce to Beyonce

“Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce” isn’t so much a concert film as it as a concert tour documentary, one that takes viewers behind the scenes to see what it’s like for one of the biggest stars in the world to be in the center of such a massive road show.

“You see the show and it’s beautiful,” Beyonce says early in the film. “But I am more interested in people seeing the process.”

Not coincidentally, the actual performance scenes, as impressive as they often are, come across as secondary to the glimpses of Beyonce hanging out with her family, rehearsing with the dancers and sharing her thoughts on a variety of subjects, all of which revolve around the megastar herself.

The end result is a love letter from Beyonce to Beyonce, who — as the writer, director and producer of the film — meticulously controlled every little detail that went into “Renaissance.” She uses the platform to underscore, again and again, that she’s an incredibly hard worker, an unflinchingly dedicated parent and an incredibly loyal person to all those around her.

Her dedicated fan base — known as the BeyHive — is going to love every single second of the film’s 168-minute runtime. Others might be checking their watches about, say, a half hour in. Overall, however, it’s hard to argue that the movie wouldn’t have benefitted from being edited down quite a bit, given that there is a great deal of repetition — at least in terms of sentiment and the points trying to be made — in the behind-the-scenes moments.

Of course, she’s smart enough not to try and just present the sanitized superstar version of herself. Instead, she shows herself as merely mortal — well, at least as mortal as Beyonce can get — as she details the difficulties of such a long and massive tour.

“I don’t think I’ve had a day off in like 44 days,” she remarks.

Yet, we never lose sight of the fact that we’re only seeing what Queen Bey wants us to see, so it’s hard not to take even the most intimate behind-the-scenes glimpse with a grain of salt. That’s the huge downside of having the subject direct the documentary, as opposed to allowing the vision/perspective of another into the mix.

Some of the non-performance highlights include seeing the star interact with daughter Blue Ivy, as the younger Carter preps for role in the live show; learning more about Beyonce’s Uncle Jonny, who introduced her to the house music that would someday inspire the excellent “Renaissance” album; and witnessing how much she loves her hometown of Houston.

“Now that I am older, I can really understand how dope Houston is,” she says.

The performance footage from the Renaissance Tour — which drew a capacity crowd to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara back in August — was visually stunning at times. Yet, the way it was presented was a bit jarring, as Beyonce made the questionable decision to splice together performances from different cities into the same song. It was an effective way to showcase a bunch of different wardrobes, but not all that helpful in terms of getting — and keeping — viewers invested in each particular song.

A great concert film sweeps viewers away, allowing them to be caught up in the music and momentum of the performance. By mixing in so much behind-the-scenes footage into the mix, Beyonce produced a film that was designed to have very distinct stops and starts. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to rise above that construct and give the viewer a sense that the film was building toward something great.

Sure, there were some superb moments, including when Kendrick Lamar, Diana Ross and Megan Thee Stallion made guest appearances. The overall film, however, failed to jell in a manner befitting such an amazing Queen.

“Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce” setlist:

1. “Dangerously in Love 2″2. “Flaws and All”3. “I’m That Girl”4. “Cozy”5. “Alien Superstar”6. “Lift Off”7. “Cuff It”8. “Energy”9. “Break My Soul” (The Queens Remix)10. “Formation”11. “Diva”12. “Run the World (Girls)”13. “My Power”14. “Black Parade”15. “Savage Remix” (with Megan Thee Stallion)16. “Partition”17. “Church Girl”18. “Get Me Bodied”19. “Before I Let Go”20. “Crazy in Love”21. “River Deep – Mountain High”22. “Love Hangover” (intermission)23. “Plastic off the Sofa”24. “Virgo’s Groove”25. “Naughty Girl”26. “Move”27. “Heated”28. “Memories Run Through My Wires” (intermission)29. “Thique”30. “All Up in Your Mind”31. “Drunk in Love”32. “America Has a Problem” (with Kendrick Lamar)33. “Pure/Honey”Encore34. “Summer Renaissance”

(Setlist source: Wikipedia, drawing from a Pitchfork article.)

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Author: Jim Harrington