Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé ★★★★½

Beyoncé's process of relentless self-documentation, not in the ephemeral social media sense but in the more old-school archivist mode, was perhaps the first true indication that the breakout star of an R&B girl group who racked up enough hit singles by 25 to last a lifetime was something deeper than a normal pop star. Increasingly digging into her trove of recordings to add context to her ever-more-personal work, Beyoncé can not only trace her rise from father-micromanaged child star to monolithic cultural force but also the slow, steady pace of her own political and emotional growth. It is staggering to watch Beyoncé's performance at Coachella, the culmination of an arc of cultural and self-examination that turned the most infamous diva of the turn of the millennium into someone capable of expressing humble gratitude for the musical history that led to her at an unfathomable scale.

It's staggering to see Beyoncé here, putting on a show filled with probably the most complexly expressed political and historical views ever staged at this level of pop excess, and consider that not even a decade ago she was a regular punching bag for every snarky feminist site on the Internet. The same people who paid their rent for all of 2011 condescendingly telling Beyoncé that actually, girls don't run the world and spent years undermining the artist's increasingly bold stances on intersectional feminism by pointing to her stage attire, are now basking in awe with the rest of us. Where others pontificate, Beyoncé illustrates. The interludes of behind-the-scenes rehearsals mixed with Beyoncé's reflections on her pregnancy, marriage and difficulties in getting back to touring shape, are intensely personal, yet they embody larger struggles faced by women artists who must shoulder the personal demands of parenthood while also living up to the public's expectations of a star.

The performance itself is astonishing. Her setlist, compartmentalizing her already vast oeuvre into their most emotionally triggering highs, recalls the dizzying medley arrangement of Prince's Lovesexy shows. Yet where Prince erected a bold, garish monument to his own multivalence as a funk/pop/rock/wot u call it star, Beyoncé manages to center others as much as herself, surrounding herself with POC of all shapes and sizes and incorporating textual and musical quotes that emphasize that she is a logical endpoint, not a singular outlier.

In terms of narrativizing performance, particularly that of an ambitious egotist realizing one's full individual potential only through collaboration, Homecoming shares roots with Stop Making Sense. But in the specifics of how she incorporates a black artistic history from Lift Every Voice and Sing to quotations from the likes of Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde to the arrangement of her backing group as a massive marching march complete with drumline for percussion, this just as readily recalls the belatedly released Aretha Franklin film Amazing Grace. Both situate their megawatt superstars as the logical endpoint of an entire timeline: Brian Wilson may have written teenage symphonies to God, but Franklin's own homecoming to a Watts church was a reminder of how many black stars began not in a garage or high school talent show but in the congregation. By retooling her 21st-century R&B, Beyoncé acknowledges those who came before, a paradoxical act of humility realized through the inherent vanity of Beyoncé's huge-scale live production. This film will endure forever, a document of a landmark performance that embodies so many intersecting lines of personal and political statement that it takes immediate place in the pantheon of concert films.