#TeamBlaria, despite being a film buff, I had decided months ago that I wasn’t going to watch Beyoncé’s Life is But a Dream documentary because I’m wary of self-directed or “behind the scenes” movies of famous people because they tend to be nothing more than vanity pieces rather than insightful, interesting, and engaging. Yet, the full court press my Facebook friends put on me in hopes that my inner film geek would override my misgivings was similar to the kind my bf does when he knows I’m trying to eat healthier, but comes home from work and says, “Sweet potato pie is made of sweet potatoes, so it’s not like you’re really eating dessert. Open your mouth,” while doing this:
In short, I had no. fucking. choice. So as soon as I got back from my trip to San Francisco, I caved in and watched the documentary. And boy, did it do nothing to change my opinion that 97.8% of all self-directed “behind the scenes” movies are little more than fluff pieces. I mean, Life is But a Dream‘s hour and twenty-five minutes running time could have been condensed to thirty seconds tops and the title of the doc could’ve been changed to the following:
Because despite all promises of information being revealed, literally everything that was in the movie has been on Beyoncé’s Wikipedia page for months and months: she’s independent. Duh. She knows how to pose for the camera and look gorgeous. Of course. Jay-Z is her best friend. Obvs. She fired her dad, who had been managing her career from day one. Um, yeah, that tends to happen once you find out your dad was deep sea diving his dick into other vaginas that don’t belong to his wife’s. Tell us or show us something we don’t know, B! Well, to be fair, she did try. Take a gander at this empty statement from Bey: “I’m a human being. I cry.” Ugh, if you have to say this aloud, chances are that you’re about as deep as a transgendered woman’s vajayjay, which is to say not very deep at all because, generally speaking, transgendered women’s newly factory made vajazzles tend to be about as shallow as the tiny ass gutter leaf guard on the roof of my parents’ starter home. Before I go any further, I just want to stress that this isn’t a case of me sipping on haterade. I enjoy Bey-Bey and think she’s a hard worker who can dance and sing well enough to have the career she has. But based on this doc and countless other interviews she’s done, she comes off as utterly bland and relies too heavily on platitudes in hopes that they sound revelatory. And I don’t know if that is the result of her laser-like focus on having a music career her entire life at the detriment of developing into a multidimensional human being or if it’s just because she suffers from “Hot Personitis” and simply coasts on being hot enough to make people’s boners go full-mast like flags at a military hero’s funeral. Whatever the case may be, as a fellow performer and a movie buff, I was greatly disappointed by the documentary.
Although, I’m not entirely sure where the disappointment comes from. What I expected to happen in the movie is exactly what happened, so why did I even bother to have a sliver of hope that Beyoncé would somehow prove me wrong? I think perhaps I was hoping that this thirty-year-old financially independent woman, who preaches incessantly about self-love and going for your dreams, would surprise me by reflecting on her life in an interesting way or having a thoughtful analysis of her emotions. Unfortunately, she does not. One one scene, Bey is having a rough day and is feeling down in the dumps about life. Her solution:
Erm, wut? Most people can’t even stand the sound of their own voices when they hear it in playback in voicemail, but she’s into listening to a song she wrote and sang about having sex with her husband as an aphrodisiac before having sex with him. That’s ridic.com. But I can’t entirely hate on her too hard because I’ve said things that have also been dumb as fuck and self-absorbed. And I expect her to be a little self-absorbed because performers need to have a certain level of self-involvement in order to do what they do. However, in addition to the self-involvement, there needs to be self-awareness. Beyoncé should, at this point, be able to demonstrate the ability to thoughtfully look inward at herself and then be able to express her findings. Except for talking about her miscarriage, she really just talks a lot without actually saying anything of substance. Most of her statements are empty sound bites on how she gets tired from working or how she wants to be free. But there’s no mention of what drives her. Who her motivations are. What music means to her. What she’s searching for in life. What her interests are. What she really thinks about late at night before going to bed. Instead, we’re fed moments like in the above GIFs, in which Bey says something ignorant in response to feeling an actual emotion, and then has a look on her face like, “Nailed it!” Like, stop high-fiving (and low-fiving aka touching your poon) yourself and understand then when you say ridiculous things, you are not verbally dropping the mic epically like Chris Rock because of your profundity, but instead, you are making my brain cells want to chloroform each other, so they can put themselves out of the misery of having to processing the foolishness you’re barfing up in soft lighting.
Luckily, my brain cells did not turn on each other because Bey does manage to bring up an valid point about the music industry later on in the movie. “I think when Nina Simone put out music, you loved her voice,” Beyoncé says, “That’s what she wanted you to love. That’s what — that was her instrument…[Image and the personal lives of musicians] shouldn’t influence the way you listen to the voice and the art. But it does.”
Bey constantly has her titties on display like they’re fresh scallops at a seafood market and now she wants to vent about how image overshadows the voice and art? She’s directly feeding into the very thing she gripes about. Sure, we don’t know the intimate details of her life, but her image, more so than her voice, which is good, but not great, is precisely what projected her to where she is. It’s the music videos, the scantily-clad photo shoots (GQ, anyone?), the shrewdness in adopting a burgeoning dance craze and bringing it to the forefront of pop culture, and the marketing of her image that have garnered the success she has. So it seems quite disingenuous for her to have this complaint and it also shows a lack of analytical thinking on her part.
Anyone with two eyes and knowledge of these two artists could see that, in a lot of ways, Beyoncé is the anti-thesis of Simone. Bey’s silent complicity with regards to companies photoshopping her pictures, so that she appears white, or at the very least Rashida Jones light (and knowing the history of Simone and her struggles in the industry because of her dark skin, it makes it all the more confusing that Bey is trying to show a kinship with Simone) is something Simone would never stand for. I highly doubt that she is asking for or signing off on the skin lightening in her pictures; however, the fact that she never bothers to speak out publicly against such heinous practices, especially, when she is so wealthy at this point that she wouldn’t put herself at financial risk to do so, is pretty much not how Simone would roll. Another difference between the two is that Bey uses her sexuality to sell records and sings heavily about materialism, especially in songs like Upgrade You, where she just lists several designer brands that she can buy for her man. I enjoy the song and think it’s catchy, but it’s curiously odd that she completely lacks the awareness to see how crucial a role imagery has played in the success in her career and instead identifies with someone whose career was adversely affected because her image did not fit the standard. But I think this time, Bey’s inability to be self-aware has less to do with self-absorption and more to do with her desire to be perfect.
Beyoncé has said many times in interviews that she is a perfectionist. She will practice hitting a note in a certain way, so that every time she sings it, it sound exactly the same. Or as we witnessed in the doc, she practices the choreography for her Billboard Awards performance over and over in the hallway of her hotel. She excels at repetition and because of it, she achieves perfection. Unfortunately, with this perfection via repetition comes a shutting off of the brain, because things like analytical thinking and self-awareness require a level of mental engagement, which is not conducive to being surface level perfect. And I think that pursuit of perfection is the film’s downfall because as a subject, she’s not interesting. She’s too concerned with how she will be perceived. How she wants to be perceived. For example, the only evidence of her pregnancy is when she shows the silhouette of her naked pregnant body, which is artfully shot in black and white. Sure, it’s lovely to look at, but is the purpose? To be beautiful? Yeah, we know that she is. Who cares anymore about looks an hour in the film? I’m not saying that she should’ve shown footage of her morning sickness or being cranky instead. But it’s rather lackluster to sum up pregnancy as “fun” and do a beauty shoot. That says absolutely nothing about anything. What’s really going on beneath the glamour shots? We never find out, which is unfortunate and made me want to rewatch Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian, a documentary that followed him around as worked on building a new act.
While it was fun to see him riff or do great crowd work or have a wonderful set, it was far more interesting to see Seinfeld, especially in the early portions of the film, forget a punchline mid-joke, have a bad set, and even doubt his funny. Vanity didn’t get in the way of him getting off stage after headlining and admitting how hard it was to get though an hour and fifteen minute set. Because for him, the work is everything. Showing the work, the warts, the doubt, the highs, and the lows; that’s the stuff. That’s the point of the documentary. So by the end of the film, when he tapes his Letterman set, it felt triumphant. By then, showing the victory lap is moving and compelling. And maybe that’s what’s missing from Life is But a Dream. For Beyoncé, image is everything. Presenting oneself as constantly taking a victory lap is the goal, which is a shame, because it doesn’t move the soul or leave a mark on the heart.