IF I was reviewing half a movie, “Beyond the Lights” would probably garner an ‘A’. For a good hour of its run time, it is so authentic, so piercing, so alive, that I couldn’t quite fathom how it didn’t receive more attention, and also how it only managed to grab one Oscar nomination for Best Original Song (“Grateful” by Diane Warren). Then the next sixty minutes happened–question answered. After that rousing start, “Beyond the Lights” was content to pile on cliché after cliché, and focus on becoming wish fulfillment fantasy. Too bad. However, I still believe writer/director, Gina Prince-Bythewood to be a genuine talent–and I’ve yet to even see her lauded 2000 debut, “Love & Basketball”. “Beyond the Lights” was good enough, that I just may seek that first feature out. But that 2nd portion asked too much of me–some of you may not mind, though.
Noni Jean (a sparkling Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a hot new pop star, somewhat unprepared for her rich superstar life. For one thing, we’re shown that she’s been pushed hard, from a very young age, by her driven, no-nonsense Mother (an effective, despite scenery-chewing, Minnie Driver). Wallowing in despair, just as she’s about to have her very first solo album released, she is rescued from a suicide attempt, by Officer Kaz Nicol (the handsome and authoritative, Nate Parker). Soon, the tables are turned, and the young cop finds himself not ready for the instant adulation, from being a hero to a renowned musical prodigy. Kaz’s future political ambitions are quickly threatened, by his association with the gorgeous pop diva, after her public relations team shield her previous intentions as an “accident”. What follows the twosome is a struggle for love, ambition, and authenticity.
That beginning of “Beyond the Lights” is a pulsating marvel. It starts with a very young Noni losing a talent contest, in order to showcase the wrath of mother Macy played by Minnie Driver. There’s nothing subtle about Driver’s work here, but she’s still pretty damn memorable. We even get glimpses of the father-son dynamic, with veteran Danny Glover, as Kaz’s Police Captain dad. Noni’s scene of failure in taking her own life is a bit over-the-top, but I gave it a pass. But the film eventually outlived its welcome with standard and obvious character arcs and scenarios. Will Macy eventually soften her hard-nosed attitude regarding her daughter’s career? You tell me. Will Kaz and Noni manage to find true love without compromising their ideals? Guess. Are there highly unlikely stage confrontations and culminations? What do you think. So, check out “Beyond the Lights” for its commendable highs. But try not to groan upon the arrival of the bottom-scraping lows.