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Celine Dion doc: Jarring, inspirational, with hints of Vegas return

Updated June 19, 2024 - 10:48 am

In 2016, at the height of her residency at the Colosseum, Celine Dion gave an emotionally indelible performance. It was her first show back after the death of her husband, René Angélil.

The show was filled with home movies and was marked with several pauses, as Dion gathered her composure. The superstar gave a monumental performance of “All By Myself” that brought the crowd to tears and to its feet.

So powerful was the experience that, at times, you had to remind yourself to breathe.

I thought of that memorable performance Monday night as Dion unveiled her honest, unvarnished “I Am: Celine Dion,” at AMC Town Square. Dion appeared in-person at a viewing event at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York. The film premiers June 25 on Amazon Prime.

In an emotionally charged speech before the screening, Dion said from the New York stage, “This is by far the biggest crowd I’ve had in years. I hope to see you all again very, very soon.”

Sources familiar with Dion’s plans indicate she will not likely be on stage this year. But Dion herself has not spelled out a timeline for her return.

The “I Am” documentary reveals what we in Las Vegas have felt for decades. We feel like we have come to know Dion personally, as she headlined some 1,141 shows at the Colosseum dating to 2003. Whatever is happening in her life and career, she gives it to us straight, whether it is the birth of her kids, passing of the love of her life, or grueling battle with Stiff Person Syndrome.

The doc is the vehicle to reconnect with Dion. It’s not always pleasant.

There is a 10-minute stretch, an episode where the condition takes over Dion’s entire body. She freezes stiff, as the disease promises. Her team of health-care professionals work on her with the urgency of a medically trained pit crew.

Though you realize the outcome, you can’t help but wonder if this person will make it through this agony. It could be any individual fighting through this ordeal, or a theatrical account in a fictional film, and you would be moved. That it is such a familiar and beloved icon brings tears to your eyes.

That scene, and many of Dion gulping medication and exercising determinedly to re-train her body to behave as it did before she was diagnosed, is offset by soaring video of Dion throughout her career. There are shots of her as a teen, working it out in front of small audiences before she ever reaches stardom. She’s shown blowing away arena crowds.

In one favorite segment, she watches a video of Australian star John Farnham cover The Beatles’ “Help,” turning it into a power ballad. “I want that,” Dion says, transfixed by the video. “I want those drums. I want all of this.”

Dion is interviewed with the camera just inches away, no make up, often with tears spilling down her face, as she says she will be back “even if I have to crawl.” She’s shown playing VR games with her kids at her Lake Las Vegas estate, a home she rarely left as she announced her SPS diagnosis three years ago.

We see warm images of Dion talking casually and warmly with her sons, René-Charles, 23, and twins Nelson and Eddy, 13, whom we have seen grow up as Dion has performed on the Strip.

As viewed from a Las Vegas prism, we do not revisit some of Dion’s soaring moments at Caesars Palace. There is nothing of opening night of March 2003, or of her joyous and bittersweet close in June 2019. But “All By Myself” is in the show, and the Colosseum is clearly the venue for the “Deadpool 2” trailer, arguing with the main character because her performance on “Ashes” was “too good.”

“This is ‘Deadpool 2,’ not ‘Titanic,’” Deadpool, portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, explains. “You’re at an 11. We need need to get you down to 5, 5 1/2 tops.”

“Listen,” Dion shoots back, gesturing to her voice. “This thing only goes to 11.”

That is the point. Dion is trying to get there, or at least close enough to sing in front of a sellout crowd. During the red carpet event in New York, she seemed close to confirming a return to the stage.

Extra’s Tommy DiDario said to Dion, “See you in Vegas, I hear.” “You heard right,” Dion said. “I’ll be front row,” DiDario answers.

“I hope so. If you’re in first row, I’m even right in front of you,” Dion counters. Then, singing, she calls out, “Right in front of you! Right in front of you!”

A perfect answer — for a red-carpet chat. But the documentary itself falls short of such a resolution. We have despair and optimism, bundled together, no clear epilogue or sequel to anticipate. But it is clear, in Dion’s battle, that SPS has been running the show long enough. The global icon is driven to get back to 11, and back to the stage.

Cool Hang Alert

HB Woods, aka D-Roc, performs at Ocean Prime at 63 Las Vegas from 6-10 p.m. Thursday night. The restaurant is celebrating the longest day of the year (or, the day with the most sunlight — all days are 24 hours) with special happy hour pricing until the show shuts down. No cover. Go to ocean-prime.com for intel.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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