Saturday, July 13, 2024

I Am: Celine Dion Review: Raw, resilient, and still hitting the high notes

Amazon Prime Video's documentary "I Am: Celine Dion," directed by Irene Taylor, features Celine Dion herself. The queen of power ballads opens up to fans about her personal struggle with stiff-person syndrome.

Rahul Pratyush Updated on: June 25, 2024 10:36 IST
Celine Dion
I Am: Celine Dion ReviewPhoto:TMDB
  • Movie Name:I Am: Celine Dion
  • Critics Rating: 3.5 / 5
  • Release Date: June 25, 2024
  • Director: Irene Taylor
  • Genre: Documentary, Music

In Irene Taylor's documentary, ‘I Am: Celine Dion,’ there is a poignant scene where Celine Dion steps into a warehouse filled with the iconic designer outfits she wore on tour, her children's toys, and countless photos. This scene brings a rush of nostalgia for Celine, taking her back through her memories. For her fans, this documentary serves as a similar time capsule, showcasing her golden moments, electrifying performances, unique style, captivating aura, fashion sense, and powerful voice. But you also witness her pain, suffering, life challenging her to do what she loves the most. You see Celine Dion, the Queen of Power Ballads finding her voice back.

Irene Taylor's I Am: Celine Dion transcends the typical music documentary format. It's not just a chronicle of Celine Dion's meteoric rise to fame and her enduring musical legacy.  This poignant and intimate film delves into the heart of a woman grappling with immense personal challenges, revealing the strength and vulnerability that lie beneath the powerhouse vocals. 

The documentary opens with a twist. Director Taylor, by her own admission, wasn't a die-hard Celine Dion fan before embarking on this project. This lack of preconception allows for a refreshingly honest portrayal. Dion herself becomes the primary storyteller, offering unfiltered reflections on her life and career. In one of the opening scenes, we see Dion, makeup-free and contemplative, reflecting on her life. Celine talking to her twin sons, Nelson and Eddy Angélil, says “I’ve travelled the world and I didn’t see a thing.” That gives you an insight into how honest the next 103 minutes are going to be.

Archival footage, spanning five decades, paints a vivid picture of her journey – from her early days as a young Quebec sensation to conquering international stages. However, the heart of the film lies in the present.  Dion bravely allows cameras into her life as she confronts a formidable foe: Stiff-person syndrome (SPS), a very rare neurological disorder that only affects 1-2 in a million people and causes muscle stiffness and spasms. Taylor doesn't shy away from the physical and emotional toll SPS takes on Dion. We see her struggle to perform simple tasks, her voice reduced to a whisper at times. We witness the toll it takes on her physical abilities, the frustration of a voice that no longer fully cooperates. The voice which she describes as ‘the conductor of her life.’ There are moments that are undeniably difficult to watch, as Dion pushes herself in grueling physical therapy sessions, the ever-present possibility of a setback looming large.

I Am: Celine Dion is much more than a simple exploration of hardship. The film intricately portrays Dion's life, skillfully intertwining her present-day challenges with flashbacks to her rapid ascent to stardom. Through candid interviews and rare archival footage, it takes you on a journey through Dion's rise to global fame. Taylor is commendable for her balanced approach in the film. She does not shy away from Dion's personal tragedies, such as the death of her husband and manager Rene Angelil, yet she also highlights Dion's enduring spirit and deep love for music. Taylor seamlessly integrates the narratives of the past and present. As Dion recounts her early struggles and victories, we see how these experiences have shaped the person she is today. 

The documentary doesn't delve deeply into the technical aspects of Dion's music production or songwriting process.  The focus is firmly on the human connection she forges through her voice.  We see the impact she has on fans around the world, the way her music becomes a soundtrack for their lives.  Archival footage of iconic performances – from the soaring vocals of "My Heart Will Go On" to the tearful rendition of "All by Myself" after Rene's death – serve as testaments to this enduring power.


One of the film's most captivating aspects is the dynamic between Dion and Taylor.  It's clear that a genuine bond formed between the two women during filming. This allows Taylor to elicit a remarkable level of vulnerability from Dion. We see Dion grapple with self-doubt, questioning her ability to perform and connect with her fans in the same way. These introspective moments are a testament to the trust Dion placed in Taylor.

I Am: Celine Dion isn't without its shortcomings. The film's focus on Dion's present struggles can overshadow her earlier career achievements at times. A more in-depth exploration of her creative process or the evolution of her musical style might have provided a more well-rounded picture of the artist. Additionally, the film's hopeful conclusion, hinting at a potential return to the stage, might feel unearned for some viewers who witness the severity of Dion's condition.

Despite these minor quibbles, I Am: Celine Dion remains a powerful and moving documentary.  It's a testament to the human spirit's ability to persevere in the face of adversity. The film will undoubtedly resonate with Dion's legions of fans, offering a deeper understanding of the woman behind the music. However, its emotional core and exploration of resilience make it a worthwhile watch for anyone seeking an inspiring and unflinching portrait of a music legend.

I Am: Celion Dion is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.