When the writers’ and actors’ strikes of 2023 forced several movies off the fall schedule, it was a pair of musicians that came to the rescue with two of the most heavily-promoted concert movies of all time. “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” got the box office through a rough patch back in October. Now comes “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” to get it through early December. The box office shouldn’t need Beyoncé to get it through early December, Thanksgiving weekend should have brought about some hits with staying power, but where the slate of traditional blockbusters failed, the concert documentary is here to thrive.
Since comparisons to the Taylor film are inevitable, I’ll jump right into those. One of the first things I noticed was that this film is a mashup of several Beyoncé concerts, whereas Taylor’s film was limited to one. There are points in the film that cut between performances of the same song at different venues. The editing during these scenes is always smooth, and I’d be unable to tell that any cutting was even going on were it not for Beyoncé’s outfits inexplicably changing mid-song. They’re always great outfits, so the chance to see as many of them as possible is greatly appreciated.
Then again, there’s something about all the cutting between concerts that seems like cheating. With Taylor, there was a “no second takes” atmosphere that made the whole production seem flawless and magical (though I have since learned that some flubs were edited out). With Beyoncé, I get the impression that there’s a safety net where if a take didn’t go well at one concert, the film could just cut to footage from another. That’s not to say the film leaves out imperfections entirely – one show is interrupted by a power outage – but I feel like the film only left this scene in as a calculated showcase for the crew overcoming adversity, and possibly so the audience wouldn’t think about other mistakes.
The other big difference between Beyoncé’s film and Taylor’s is that while that one was almost entirely limited to what the audience saw at the concert, this one throws in behind-the-scenes footage. I have mixed feelings on this idea, both in concept and execution. In concept, yes, we’re getting to see exclusive footage, but I kept getting the feeling that it was at the expense of getting to see her perform more songs – including some of her biggest hits, which aren’t in this movie.
In execution, I found the behind-the-scenes stuff to be hit or miss. Beyoncé wants the audience to know how hard she works, which is undeniably true to a nearly impossible degree, but the point is made so often that it feels beaten into the ground by movie’s end. Anecdote-wise, Beyoncé often makes time to affectionately put over role models like her mother and a family friend named Uncle Jonny that made many of her early outfits. Uncle Jonny passed away over 20 years ago and somehow he’s the breakout star of this film.
I’ll be honest, I had a hard time enjoying “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” despite Beyoncé being an incredible artist with some of the most dominating charisma on the planet. Maybe it was because so many of the songs chosen for this movie were unknown to me. Maybe it was all the cutting away from the music for non-musical pontifications. Maybe it was just that after two concert movies in two months, I’m all concert-ed out. I can’t say I “go” for this one, but if you’re a member of the BeyHive, you’ll probably get more out of it than I did.
“Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce” is not rated by the MPAA, but would be an R for language and sexually suggestive material. Its running time is 169 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.