BEYOND THE LIGHTS
*** (out of 5)
November 14, 2014
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as NONI
Nate Parker as KAZ
Minnie Driver as MACY JEAN
Richard Colson Baker as KID CULPRIT
Danny Glover as CAPTAIN NICOL
Studio: Relativity Media
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I know it sounds cool to be a movie reviewer, but it’s not always enviable. It’s not always seeing the big tentpole releases before they come out or getting award screeners sent to you at the end of the year. Sometimes you have to do real work. I mean, there are days that it’s nearly impossible to drag my sorry butt off the couch so I can go to a screening.
All joking aside, there are plenty of movies for which my negative anticipation for them makes it extremely hard to see. “Beyond the Lights” was one of those films. I dreaded seeing it for weeks, ever since I first saw the trailer attached to a late Thursday night showing. It just didn’t look like the kind of movie that I’d be even remotely interested in.
However, sometimes this job offers me some pleasant surprises. When I finally did drag my said sorry butt off the couch and go to the movie theater, barely making it in my seat before the film started, I eventually found myself enjoying the film.
On its surface, “Beyond the Lights” is just a simple pop star romance. It’s nothing I would ever seek out on my own, but the cool thing about my job is that sometimes I’m forced to a see a movie like this and find it quite well done.
The story follows a rising pop star named Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), whose career is taking off but she is suffering from some emotional issues. She feels marginalized by her own mother and manager, as well as the recording industry. Everyone seems to want the image, but now the person. In a desperate cry for help, Noni tries to kill herself by jumping from a hotel balcony. Kaz (Nate Parker), an off-duty cop on security detail, saves her life, setting the couple down a path of discovery and romance.
While “Beyond the Lights” isn’t terribly original in concept of execution, it is constructed quite well. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a fantastic performance as Noni, shouldering a low of the drama. She shares this burden with Minnie Driver, who plays her overbearing mother. Driver brings a certain gravitas to the role as she normally isn’t found in such a traditionally stock supporting role. It is their level of acting that actually raises “Beyond the Lights” beyond your basic romantic drama.
Nate Parker is fine for what the role calls for. However, there’s virtually no depth to his character. A weak backstory is attempted, featuring Danny Glover as his father grooming him for political office. However, such little attention is given to his character that it seems almost thrown in during reshoots as an afterthought.
But that’s okay, and in a strange way, this is what makes “Beyond the Lights” a greater movie than what it actually attempts to be.
With all the character development and growth taking place with both Noni and her mother, the film turns traditional Hollywood on its ear. We live in a world of male-dominated entertainment, and generally the formula puts the male lead as the main character who gets the most development. However, Parker is marginalized as much as Hollywood normally marginalizes its actresses. This is Noni’s story, and Parker is just there to look pretty and be someone for her to fall in love with.
It is in this sense that “Beyond the Lights” is a fascinating cinematic experiment that represents progressive, feminist filmmaking without being overbearing or obnoxious. In fact, if you aren’t looking for it, you may not even notice it.
And isn’t that a sign of progress more than anything else?