BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)
Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Richard Colson Baker, Danny Glover, Darryl Stephens, India Jean-Jacques, Elaine Tan and Tyler Christopher.
Screenplay by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Distributed by Relativity Media. 116 minutes. Rated PG-13.
While it does not always reach its higher notes, there is a fascinating look at the sacrifices that are made in modern American life and fame in Beyond the Lights. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, following up her very good Love & Basketball, sometimes allows the central romance to overshadow her pointed commentary, but it never obscures some of the truly interesting things she is trying to say about stardom, gender and politics.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Noni, a gorgeous sexpot R&B queen, pretty obviously loosely based on Rihanna. (Mbatha-Raw even looks somewhat like the singer.) Noni has been famously dating and dueting with a slimy white rapper named Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker) and her debut album is about to drop. Her life has turned into a whirlwind of hair extensions, photo shoots, booty shorts and hollow beats.
On the day that is supposed to be the best of her life – she wins a Billboard award a week before her debut is set to be released – Noni feels nothing but empty. In a moment of despair, she impulsively tries to jump from a hotel balcony, only to be saved by Kaz (Nate Parker of The Great Debaters), a local cop who is moonlighting as a bodyguard.
Noni and Kaz quickly become friends due to the fact that Kaz is one of the few people who do not see her as the character she must play for the public. He gets her as a person. Quickly the friendship becomes more intimate.
Kaz is also having to deal with expectations and roles being placed upon him by outsiders. A young hero cop, son of a well-respected captain (Danny Glover), he is being vetted for political office by the local party and clergy. Because of that, he has to live his life completely in an above board – and that does not include hanging out with a messed up sexpot singer.
Can love grow with all of the outside forces conspiring against them? Noni’s label, ex-boyfriend and her relentlessly ambitious stage mother (played by Minnie Driver) and Kaz’s cop buddies, political operatives and father all see the relationship as potentially harmful to their careers.
Will Noni be able to get rid of all the hair extensions and canned beats and embrace her talent as an artist (as well as her nappy hair?) Will she ever be taken seriously for her voice without having to sell the fantasy?
It is an interesting dichotomy, well played by two extremely charismatic actors. In the long run Beyond the Lights settles for an ending which is rather safe, not nearly as intriguing as the film’s set up. Still, the movie has enough interesting ideas and quirks to make it much better than you may expect.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 24, 2015.