“Ladies, ladies, ladies … are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough of the bull—-?” – Beyonce, onstage at Coachella in 2018.
Mom is hangry.
Mom tells us she was 218 pounds when she gave birth to twins after a very difficult pregnancy, and now she’s trying to whip herself into shape on a tight deadline, and she’s not going to lie:
“In order for me to meet my goal,” she says, “I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol … and I’m hungry!”
Of all the spine-tingling and breathtaking and grand and glorious and inspirational and badass moments in “Homecoming,” Beyonce’s 137-minute Netflix documentary about her iconic performances at Coachella 2018 (and the grueling, eight-month rehearsal process leading up to that widely hailed show), why would I lead with this relatively insignificant anecdote?
Because we already knew the onstage footage would blow us away. How could it not?
Because these quieter moments are somehow as engrossing as the gigantic and electric performance numbers.
Because it’s just one small example of how Beyonce the director is so well-suited to make a movie about Beyonce the life force.
When Beyonce took the stage at Coachella in April of 2018 for the first of two performances held on successive weekends, she was the first African American to headline the festival, which was founded in 1999.
By the time the curtain closed on Coachella, Beyonce’s concerts were already being hailed as landmark achievements.
A straightforward, stand-alone compilation of performance highlights would have made for must-see viewing — but it’s the little moments of insight and candor, as well as the “All That Jazz”-style rehearsal footage and (most significantly) the big-picture historical context that help elevate “Homecoming” to something even more memorable.
This is an unforgettable musical journey, a fascinating behind-the-scenes story, an homage to African American culture and leadership, a monument to the historically black college and university (HBCU) halftime culture in all its drumline glory. (At one point we see archival footage of marching bands and dance teams from schools such as Southern University, Jackson State, Grambling State and North Carolina A&T.)
“I studied my history, I studied my past,” says Beyonce. “I put my 22-year career into my two-hour ‘Homecoming’ performance.”
The stunning spectacle of Beyonce commanding the stage and belting out one signature tune after another while a veritable army of color-coordinated percussionists, brass specialists, dancers et al. provide world-class support makes for some of the most entertaining and impactful filmed concert sequences of this century.
And when we take breaks from the smooth and silky and beautifully filmed and expertly edited performances of “Crazy in Love,” “Freedom,” “Formation,” “Bow Down,” etc., etc., we’re treated to cool vignettes ranging from home movie-type glimpses of Beyonce in tender family moments to rehearsal and show-prep footage illustrating the enormity of this project, as hundreds of talented and dedicated artists and crew members devoted countless hours, days, weeks, months in order to ensure “Homecoming” would become the stuff of legend.
It feels as if cameras were everywhere in the months leading up to the show, as Beyonce oversees rehearsals, gives pep talks to a small village (150 strong) of dancers and musicians, and dances her, um, head off while whipping herself into shape after giving birth to twins Rumi and Sir Carter.
“I had an extremely difficult pregnancy,” says Beyonce in voice-over that sounds as if she’s talking to us on the phone, a nice touch that provides a more intimate connection than a talking-head interview would produce.
“In the womb, one of my babies’ heartbeat paused a few times … so I had an emergency C-section.”
A graphic tells us we’re “115 Days Before Coachella.” Beyonce says, “There were days when I thought my strength and endurance would never be the same.”
But each time we return to the performance, with a battalion of backup dancers moving with breathtakingly fluid and exhilarating choreography, and dozens of musicians providing the heart-thumping rhythm of the night, and Beyonce front and center, exuding grace and power and confident sexuality, we see the proof this singular artist has worked to the point where she has regained her strength and endurance and then some. She is a shining, sparkling, generational star.
From time to time we hear the voices of African American icons such as Nina Simone, who says, “To me, we are the most beautiful creatures in the world, black people. … My job is to somehow make them curious enough or to persuade them, by hook or crook, to get more aware of themselves and where they came from and what they are into and what is already there.”
One moment, “Homecoming” is a candy-colored visual delight, the screen popping with bright reds and yellows and pinks as Beyonce puts fresh spins on familiar and beloved hits.
The next moment, the picture switches to sometimes crystal clear, sometimes deliberately grainy black-and-white footage of crowd reaction shots or another day of grinding it out at rehearsals. The shifts in visual tones add to the already mesmerizing immersive experience.
“Homecoming” crackles and pops with music to make the soul soar. “Homecoming” resonates as a vibrant history lesson and a celebration of dance and instrumental and vocal artistry. “Homecoming” is epic and yet intimate, sweet and yet sexy, defiant and yet inclusive, gritty and yet magical.
“Homecoming” is one of the best concert films ever made.
Netflix presents a documentary directed by Beyonce Knowles-Carter and co-directed by Ed Burke. Rated TV-MA. Running time: 137 minutes. Now showing on Netflix.