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Review: Beyonce, 'Life Is But a Dream'

Posted 5:07pm on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013

This weekend is a busy one, as music documentaries go.

Friday and Saturday will see the Showtime premiere of History of the Eagles, a three-hour look at the life and art of the mega-selling country-rock group, and Beyonce Knowles will unveil her much-touted Life Is But a Dream on HBO.

A screener wasn't provided for the former, but I was able to get an advance look at the latter. And the film, co-directed, produced and written by the Houston native, which is being promoted as a raw behind-the-scenes look at her life, doesn't quite live up to its billing. There are definitely moments where viewers glimpse the humanity behind the brand -- a poignant section dealing with her 2011 miscarriage is as close as Dream comes to being revelatory -- but much of the 90-minute run time is devoted to footage of Knowles performing and offering airy thoughts on womanhood and celebrity.

Voyeurs expecting a front-row seat to Beyonce and Jay-Z's marriage will also be sorely disappointed, as the rapper hardly figures into the proceedings. He's glimpsed multiple times, but scarcely says a word.

To her credit, the 31-year-old gives the illusion of intimacy, which her fans will undoubtedly eat up. But this pastiche of home movies, iChat monologues and slickly produced performance footage only approximates the "real" Beyonce, rather than providing genuine insight into her struggles. The film opens with her much-publicized split from her father and manager, Mathew Knowles, but Beyonce addresses the decision and its effects rather obliquely, retreating behind the shield of a woman forced to take matters into her own hands.

"I always battle with how much do I reveal about myself," she says midway through Dream. "It's the battle of my life." Apart from flickers of potential -- she speaks of the "crippling" nature of commercial success, but it's never revisited -- Life Is But a Dream feels light as air, more a commercial for all Beyonce has accomplished to date, rather than a true examination of who she is and how she's come to achieve what she has. She doesn't need to let anyone in -- she does have a right to privacy -- but pretending to pierce the veil of superstardom is almost as disappointing.

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