Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, review: A glamorous rollercoaster of exultant highs and dull lows

Beyoncé during her Renaissance tour
Beyoncé during her Renaissance tour - Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood

Are concert movies the new all action blockbusters? It was exhausting at times just watching R’n’B superwoman Beyoncé‘s blockbuster concert film, presented as an afro futurist funkadelic spectacular, that included dancing robots, a lunar module and costumes to make Barbarella blush.

There’s a wildly enthusiastic cast of tens of thousands who have paid for their own tickets to appear in crowd shots, and what it lacks in CGI special effects it makes up for with the superstar singer’s weaponised vocal prowess.

The most thrilling element of this whole over the top production is Beyoncé’s showstopping voice, which raises goosebumps every time she unleashes it. Which, oddly for a concert movie, isn’t quite as often as the nearly three-hour running time might lead you to expect.

Renaissance is not just a film about a concert, it’s a film about making a film about putting a concert together, an odd mix of powerhouse mass entertainment and navel gazing cine verite art documentary that tilts wildly between crowd pleasing blockbuster and pretentious vanity project.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift was in London to support Beyoncé - Gareth Cattermole/Parkwood

There is only one person to both credit and blame for the exultant highs and dull lows of this peculiar experiment.

Beyoncé isn’t just the star of her movie, as the credits make clear. She was also the director, producer and “creative director,” which presumably means she also made the - at times - bewildering decision to abandon any semblance of continuity.

Edited together from multiple shows across her latest world tour, the star and her dancing crew change costumes with dizzying rapidity, barely remaining in the same attire from one bar of a song to the next. It’s a trick that starts out amusing and ends up bewildering, as if the first time director has just discovered the edit function and can’t stop playing with it.

Beyoncé also deserves a credit as her own stunt woman, revealing that she damaged her knee during rehearsals, requiring surgery just a month before she led her troops out on the road. Yet the more she insisted “I’m not a machine,” the more it sounded like an action hero catchphrase.

I am not sure anyone would have been truly surprised if she had peeled off her skin at the end to reveal that she was actually a high-kicking robot from the future.

Beyoncé during her tour in New Jersey
Beyoncé during her tour in New Jersey - WireImage

The overlong, over serious sections between songs seemed designed to undermine that narrative, focusing on the pain, stress and hard work that goes on behind the scenes of such an apparently glamorous production. It was sombre and interesting but sucks the energy out of the actual performance, a constant interruption reminding us that even escapism comes at a heavy price.

The only times Beyoncé looks like she’s genuinely enjoying herself is when she’s onstage, dancing and singing, rather than backstage telling us what a toll all this takes on her family and her life, whilst assistants endlessly fiddle with her hair, massage her neck and fix her makeup. Who knew being fabulously rich, famous and talented could be such a drag?

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