"Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé" shows us the pop superstar onstage in a succession of incredible costumes, pulling off intricate vocal runs, busting out complicated dance moves, beaming out at stadium audiences like she's powering the place with her smile.
It also shows her leafing through a binder of laminated documents as she bemoans the high cost of steel.
Written, directed and produced by Beyoncé herself (she's also credited with "creative direction," just to be safe), "Renaissance" — due in theaters Friday — documents the 42-year-old singer's lavish 2023 tour behind her Grammy-winning album of the same title. The tour won rave reviews and rang up more than $575 million in ticket sales, according to Billboard. The accompanying movie follows the recent film version of Taylor Swift's blockbuster Eras tour that similarly arrived onscreen in a lucrative distribution deal with AMC Theaters.
Yet unlike "The Eras Tour," which stays onstage with Swift as she played Inglewood's SoFi Stadium in August, the nearly three-hour-long "Renaissance" wants to take the viewer behind the scenes to reveal the hard work that's made Beyoncé unquestionably the greatest live performer of her generation. It's a celebration of talent, yes, but also of the commitment, the sacrifice, the sheer tenacity required to pull off the illusion of effortlessness.
Not long into the doc, Beyoncé says the Renaissance tour — with its sleek chrome-and-metal stage set and its massive high-res video wall — took four years to come together, not least because, as a Black woman, she's accustomed to not being heard the first time she says something.
"Eventually," she reports with a grin, "they realize this bitch will not give up."
We've seen this conventional blend of performance, rehearsal and backstage scenes before, in concert docs like "The Last Waltz" and "Buena Vista Social Club," as well as in the singer's 2019 "Homecoming" film about her epic headlining gig at the previous year's Coachella festival. Because Beyoncé no longer does traditional interviews — it's OK to resent that choice — she uses these film projects as her chance to discuss her craft and to break (or confirm) news about her tightly guarded private life. Here she talks about a knee injury she sustained shortly before the tour's launch and about her 11-year-old daughter Blue Ivy's much-memed participation in the show as a dancer.
"She told me she was ready to perform, and I told her no," Beyoncé recalls — a conviction affirmed to Beyoncé's dismay when Blue Ivy's wobbly debut was widely criticized on social media. But the film tracks Blue Ivy as she doubles down on her training, ultimately becoming a fan-favorite fixture of the Renaissance show. (There's a very moving shot of Jay-Z in the crowd one night as he proudly beholds the sight of his wife and daughter killing it onstage together.)
What distinguishes "Homecoming," which came from Netflix, and "Renaissance" is the latter's exhibition on the big screen, a presentation it lives up to with gorgeously photographed concert footage from what looks like at least a dozen tour dates, including the September night at SoFi when the singer was joined by both Diana Ross and Kendrick Lamar.
It's a thrill to get an up-close view of how hard she's hitting the choreography in "Cozy"; it's a treat to examine the psychedelic jockey's uniform she's wearing for "Cuff It." "Break My Soul" is a frenzied blast of sound and color, with Beyoncé parading around a circular runway in a pink latex dress, her small army of dancers twirling and twerking behind her. Just try to take your eyes off her.
Or your ears: Though her earlier albums showcased her curatorial skills, the ingeniously assembled "Renaissance" heralded Beyoncé's ascent as an arra0nger and bandleader to the lofty ranks of Prince and Stevie Wonder. The movie, which really shouldn't be screened at anything less than top volume, reiterates her mastery in sequences like one where she threads together her songs "Church Girl" and "Get Me Bodied" with her cover of "Before I Let Go" by Frankie Beverly and Maze.
If you caught the Renaissance tour in person, you'll lament the fact that people are somehow sitting as they take all this in. But you'll be glad for the chance to pay extra attention to the precision of her singing and to her band's playing. It's astonishing stuff. (Also astonishing: that one of just a few songs she cut from the show for the movie was "Love on Top," which inspired a nightly crowd singalong among the most exuberant I've ever witnessed.)
Between the set pieces, we see Beyoncé practicing, practicing, practicing; we see her frowning, legal pad in hand, as some lighting cue or musical transition fails — for now — to match the vision in her head. We also travel with her to her hometown of Houston, where she recounts the showbiz aspirations she developed as a child, and to a vacation home on the French Riviera, where she talks about her family life with Jay-Z and their three children. The divulgence carries the weight of privileged insight, though it's shrewdly apportioned, of course — intimacy on Beyonce's terms, as always.
At one point, she and her mother, Tina Knowles, sit in a dressing room and reminisce lovingly about the late family member they called Uncle Jonny, who introduced Beyoncé to the queer dance music that inspired her to create "Renaissance"; at another, she gives over a lengthy portion of the movie to some of the pioneers of the ballroom scene, allowing them to use her platform to tell their stories.
Wisely, though, "Renaissance" keeps coming back to Beyoncé — to her voice, to her body, to her mind. As the movie's star, she occupies every inch of the spotlight she's labored for decades to fill. As its director, she knows she has something no other filmmaker's got.
'RENAISSANCE: A FILM BY BEYONCÉ'
Running time: 2:48
How to watch: In theaters Friday