Gina Prince-Bythewood’s third feature film, Beyond the Lights, is a contemporary love story set in the frenzied world of popular music.
Rising star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) feels overwhelmed by the trappings of her meteoric rise to fame. She has what everyone imagines they want, but really it isn’t enough – something is missing. The Little Blackbird wants to fly; and for the moment at least, her wings are clipped, thanks in large part to a pushy stage mother, Macy (Minnie Driver – more on her a little later). At the pit of her despair, she meets Kaz (Nate Parker) a police officer who becomes her literal and figurative savior. The two form an instant and intense relationship that causes worlds to collide and challenges each to figure out what it is they really want in life (and in love).
As for the performances, what can I say? – they were all pretty solid. When you contrast this performance with one I saw earlier this year (Belle) featuring Ms. Mbatha-Raw, she has proven her ability to play varied and challenging roles; hopefully there will be more to come in the future. I also did particularly like Driver’s portrayal of Macy. It is a credit to both writer and performer that they were able to effectively convey the pathos and personal demons in a character that could have easily turned into the pantomime villain of the film. I will not go so far was to say I 100% cosign on Macy’s actions, I do feel like there is enough in the performance to allow me to understand what it means for her to accomplish something in life, even if it is through the exploitation of her daughter’s talents.
While the relationship dynamics are all well-played, the personal arc of Noni felt a bit formulaic to me – that is, the tale of “the artist who wants to be true to themselves in every way possible.” Yes, I do not fail to recognize the symbolic importance of Noni “peeling away the layers” to get to her true self, sometimes you as a viewer may feel like you are being hit over the head with the imagery. In fact, Beyond the Lights has a few soapy tropes (including some rather telegraphed set pieces and a rather saccharine ending), that depending on your viewing preferences, may rub you the wrong way.
So, you might be wondering, if this is in fact set in the world of the music industry – what of it? Well I felt like the music and movement were intentionally cranked up to 11 to drive home the point of the dichotomy of the fantasy of the lifestyle versus the reality. In that regard, it is a mission accomplished.
One other thought – though Noni is clearly the one who the narrative is centered on, and while it is rather clear that he has made a choice by the film’s closing act, I would like to think in the realm of my own imagination at least, he was able to forge along with his own dreams too – whatever they might be.
Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood has again proven she does know how to tap an emotional truth with her characters that resonates with an audience (at least with me anyway). It is one of the reasons since seeing her debut feature, Love and Basketball (1999), I continue to support Prince-Bythewood’s work as a filmmaker.
So let me know – have you seen Beyond the Lights yet? Does this film interest you? Leave me a comment below and share!
Photo Credits: Relativity Media