To Document a Diva

A New York film critic descends into Celine’s World

Editor’s note: In honor of Celine Dion’s announcement that she’ll return to Caesars Palace in March 2011, we asked our contributing critic for a non-local’s perspective on her new film, which is playing here in limited release.

Presented as a “performance” rather than a documentary of her 2008-09 “Taking Chances” world tour, Celine: Through the Eyes of the World is an insult to your intelligence on many levels. Television writer/director-turned-glorified-editor Stéphane Laporte spastically splices together performances of the same song from various concerts in diverse global locations such as Cape Town and Dubai. Backstage shenanigans, photo-ops with foreign children, teary-eyed press conferences, and saccharine family moments, bodyguards and dance crew substitute for a storyline. Perhaps the most glaring example of corporate pop music on the planet today, Dion plays to the lowest-common-denominator masses who have sipped her egomaniacal Kool-Aid and are only too happy to blabber on about it.

Like an amped-up cross between Ann Coulter and Sarah Jessica Parker, the singer gesticulates and pulls faces like a circus clown as she exaggerates the literal import of every oh-so-spirit-lifting power ballad. Think of her as the anti-Sinatra. Dion smothers every song with cloying histrionics tilted to make you feel like you’re being force-fed a giant box of gooey chocolates with a rhinestone-encrusted funnel. There’s nothing smart or natural in her performance. Even as a skilled vocal technician, here is a singer who doesn’t know the first thing about phrasing or mood. Perhaps a few years with some Graham Parker records would help.

A day visit for Dion, her husband and child to Hitler’s Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin provides an opportunity for her to experience some deep feelings that she’ll repurpose in that night’s duet with a German opera singer. Whew! While in South Africa, a visit to Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell provides yet another chance for Dion—sans makeup—to pull sad faces like a vaudeville child actor seeking applause. The film also loses points for stealing part of its title from Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World (2001). The most satisfying moment of the film arrives in a backstage scene with Dion doing an imitation of a horse that is spot-on. Oh yes, friends, we’ve got a “special” one here.

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