‘I Am: Celine Dion’ Review: You’ve Seen the Best of Me

‘I Am: Celine Dion’ Review: You’ve Seen the Best of Me

Disease shows no respect even for pop music’s most revered figures

In “I Am: Celine Dion,” a documentary about the global singer on Amazon Prime Video, it quickly becomes clear that Dion can’t even move her body, let alone sing a soulful ballad with all the strength she has, since she was a teenager, has raked in millions. The film, from director Irene Taylor, records the singer’s painful reality as she battles the rare neurological condition called Stiff Person Syndrome.

In an Instagram post in December 2022, Dion tearfully revealed her diagnosis to her fans, but by then the documentary was already in production. Taylor opens the film with relaxed scenes of Dion at her Las Vegas home with her children and her staff. Then the part that is painful to watch: you hear the singer moaning while she has a seizure on the floor. Learning early on that she had always wanted to sing “my whole life” intensifies the tragedy of watching Dion, now 56, struggle to continue living that dream. Dion’s voice made her a star; this film is eager to make her a person.

But there’s nothing subtle about Taylor’s edits, like a high-energy cut of the past performance with the subdued domestic energy on display as Dion vacuums her couch. One shot pans to her eerily empty living room, a stark departure from playing in packed stadiums. The score hurts too. All this palpable sadness is, perhaps, why Taylor inserts clips of Dion in better times.

I understand the tendency not to define Dion by his diagnosis. But Dion’s spontaneously expressive personality already shines through in his pain in raw footage that seems more tied to her healing journey, as when her physical therapist torments her about a cream she didn’t apply to his feet. “Give me a break,” he says with playful exasperation.

Then she sings “Gimme a Break,” the Kit Kat commercial jingle. While that welcome touch of humor draws you into this intimately told story, what’s more Celine than an off-the-cuff voice? — unremarkable clips distract you from her: her late-night talk show impersonation of Sia; a snippet of her from her “Ashes” video that lets the Deadpool cameo go on way too long; her career-defining ballad “My Heart Will Go On” but, oddly enough, the “Carpool Karaoke” version with James Corden.

These awkward segments undermine the powerful emotional atmosphere of Dion’s testimony that transcends her circumstances. Especially when she leaves the cameras around, showing some of the darkest health-related scenes I’ve ever seen from an on-screen superstar.

“I think I was very good,” Dion says of her career. After seeing a sequined costume hanging in her house, her “it was her” is extremely honest. But when she sings during a studio session, she keeps doing it AND Very good. A final shot shows her as a starry-eyed teenager staring up at the stage lights. It’s as if her younger self has something to say after all these years: that if not now, it might all come back to her soon.

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