Beyond the Lights is a tough movie to review because I can’t really defend it and yet I want to. I don’t know if any of you can relate to that feeling when watching a movie? You know it isn’t great and yet the performers or some other aspects just seem to work for you and you like it.
The sole reason Beyond the Lights works is the magnetism, warmth and believability of the two lead actors, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker. Despite her unwieldy name I predict Gugu is going to be a huge star. She is so great in this case playing a Rihanna-like star on the rise named Noni Jean. She is sexy, beautiful and seemingly confident but in our opening scenes she is sitting on a balcony edge contemplating suicide.
Her mother is played by Minnie Driver as a fairly cliched ‘manager Mom’ but I did like that she was smarter than nearly everyone else in the room and she thinks she is advocating for her daughter while completely failing at it. This is kind of an interesting dynamic; although not all that original. Still, the performers elevate it to be quite compelling.
Noni’s Mother tries to talk her daughter off of the balcony ledge but is unsuccessful. (Again completely not getting what Noni is really saying). Now steps on to the scene our hero Kaz Nicol, Noni’s bodyguard for the night who saves her life and tells her ‘I see you’. Corny line but I’m telling you it works.
Her Mom, the label, fans, don’t see her but this good man does. This begins our romance and basically the movie plays out exactly like you might think but that’s not a bad thing. These are two very likable people who are trying to be their best self and love the other. They have great chemistry together and I at least enjoyed seeing their romance play out.
Gugu also does her own singing in Beyond the Lights and it great. Everything from the hip-hop tracks with a guy known in the movie as Kid Culprit to the softer moments of Nina Simone’s Blackbird, are wonderful. Not just an adequate movie soundtrack but a CD I would be interested in buying even without the movie.
They try to throw in a political track for Koz led by his father played by Danny Glover and that doesn’t work very well. It feels too cute with how closely it mirrors Noni and her mother’s relationship. Luckily it isn’t in the movie that much.
Most of the movie is just Noni and Koz getting to know each other and since I liked both of them that was fine with me.
There is also a nice message of being your authentic self and that weaves and images do not give the popularity that lasts or provide any kind of real self worth. For a movie with a suicide attempt and a fairly conventional romance the messaging is actually kind of subtle and effective. Again probably because we like the lead characters so much we don’t mind them teaching us something rather ordinary but important.
If you hate it I totally get it. Like I said I can’t really defend the movie except that I loved the performances, music and the two lead characters. I liked their romance together. It felt believable and it had a heart to it which I enjoyed. All together it is a film where the parts are better than the sum and most of that praise goes to Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and the music. For what it is I liked it.
When I think of what the movie would be in the typical hands of Tyler Perry I especially like it. There are very few African American female filmmakers and Gina Prince-Blythewood does a good job writing and directing the movie. The dialogue feels real and believable even if a little corny. It just works.
As far as content there is some sensuality but its pretty tame. The more explicit segments are probably in the photo shoots and dance numbers but they probably aren’t much worse than an episode of Top Model or the Grammys. There is a scene of domestic violence but very minimal language. I’d say its fine for teens and up.
Can you relate to what I’m saying about a movie which you know isn’t great but you still enjoy because of the performances or some other aspect? I’d love to hear what some of yours are.
Overall Grade- C+ Content Grade- B