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MOVIE REVIEW

‘Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé’ illuminates a superstar in command of her artistry, onstage and off

Beyoncé performs at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Aug. 1, 2023, on her "Renaissance World Tour."Julian Dakdouk

Beyoncé's “Renaissance World Tour,” which ran from May through October of this year and came to Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium in August, resembled a force of nature this summer, transforming massive stadiums into glitter-filled spectaculars packed with disco cowgirls and sequin-festooned club kids as it traveled from city to city. Its commemorative film “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” which opened in local theaters Thursday night, is not only an opportunity to catch another glimpse of Beyoncé's dazzling vocals and radiant charisma — it’s a chance to go behind the scenes and see how the woman at the center of it all executed her vision.

“Renaissance,” the 2022 album and focus of the Renaissance World Tour’s setlist, was a love letter to dance clubs and their ability to lift their denizens — particularly those from marginalized backgrounds — into a place of liberation. It sounds opulent and expansive, its layered references to underground culture and dance-pop’s past polished to a shine by exacting production and Beyoncé's robust, limber voice. As Beyoncé notes in the film, which uses the show’s breaks in the action to delve into revealing behind-the-scenes interludes, it also comes from a personal place. Her uncle Jonny, who helped her mother, Tina Knowles, outfit Destiny’s Child in their early years and who passed away from complications from HIV when Beyoncé was in her late teens, introduced her to house music; “Renaissance” and its show honor his legacy and that of other Black queer men who had to live through even less tolerant times.

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Beyoncé took that mission seriously, which is obvious while listening to “Renaissance” or taking in its attendant tour, but “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” shows how many people and how much time went into pulling it off night after night for months. Near the film’s outset, Beyoncé breaks down the tour’s tremendous infrastructure, from dancers to set builders to nurses; she also gives crew members who would normally be quiet, or fully behind the scenes, a chance to talk about their journeys into her inner circle. Yet Beyoncé is on top of every creative decision, adjusting lighting setups and musical arrangements during rehearsals and puncturing the excuses given to her about seeming impossibilities with precisely wielded questions showing her years-honed knowledge. Watching certain aspects of the show evolve from sketches to stage is almost as compelling as taking in the actual performances.

Over the course of her career, Beyoncé has been famously private, but “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” opens up about her personal life — it’s no accident that “Flaws and All,” a ballad from the deluxe edition of her second album, “B’Day,” that marvels over a lover who’s completely accepting of the singer despite not living up to perfectionist standards, comes into play early on. Beyoncé is now in her early 40s, and while she’s revered by her devotees (known collectively as the BeyHive), the movie also raises the curtain on her offstage life in a way that’s rarely been seen, with her moments with daughter Blue Ivy, who offers setlist suggestions and appears — after protracted parent-child negotiations — onstage to dance alongside her mother, being especially touching. Late in the film, Beyoncé also reveals that she got knee surgery shortly before the tour kicked off, making her declaration earlier on that “I’m human, I’m not a machine” even more poignant.

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While the high-concept, dance-heavy vocal workouts of “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” make Beyoncé feel larger than life, the glimpses of offstage life in between those performances drive home the point about her being a human being who’s becoming more fully realized by the day — and who’s caring less about what public perceptions might be. She’s a mother and a daughter, a wife and a friend, a Houstonian and a world traveler, a girl-group alum and architect, a devotee of Tina Turner who inspires her own fervors, and a woman who can summon Diana Ross, Kendrick Lamar, and Megan Thee Stallion to be beside her as she performs in front of tens of thousands of people. The movie’s presentation of her whole personhood adds sweetness to the spectacle, and drives home the outro of “My House,” a thumping new Beyoncé track that plays under the credits: “Pick me up even if I fall/ Let love heal us all, us all, us all.”

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