Movie Review: Beyond the Lights (2014)


Rating: B-/ Fame offers a thrill more potent than any drug,  but like a drug, it can also consume your life completely. This is the dilemma faced by Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw,) a beautiful mixed-race pop star pushed beyond endurance by her domineering white mother (Minnie Driver,.) Noni is famous primarily for making trashy pop-rap music videos with her musical partner/ sort of boyfriend Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly,) where the unlikely duo sings about booty and twerking while Noni leaves very little of her scantily clad body to the imagination.

Everybody loves Noni on a superficial level without bothering to get to know her, but she feels suffocated. Noni’s mother has dictated her life from square one and fame and the drawbacks that come with it are driving her crazy. So Noni tries to jump to her death after a big awards ceremony, but what she didn’t count on was being rescued by a handsome police officer (Nate Parker,) Kaz. Kaz falls for the hot mess and the two embark on a passionate love affair, despite disapproval from their families. Noni, stifled by her mother and what the expectations her career has her her, ironically finds her voice for the first time, but will misunderstandings and rhe omnipresent drone of the paparazzi conspire to keep these lovers apart?

Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines in this otherwise fairly pedestrian movie, which goes pretty much in the direction you think it will, with few surprises. At the center of the film is a cute romance between two attractive people, and it’s well… genuinely sweet, even if it’s kinda hokey too. Beyond the Lights contains a good message about the price of the kind of fame some people seek out so desperately and Noni’s run-ins with the media, which sniffs out a story like sharks sniff out blood, and her judgmental ‘fans,’ who claim to adore her but lay into her at the first sign of weakness. Minnie Driver also turns in a pretty great performance as Noni’s mom. For someone who just about charmed the pants off of me in Circle of Friends, who knew she could make my blood run cold as a spectacularly self-serving stage mother?

The thing is, although this movie has a nice story, there’s nothing particularly new or urgent about the way the filmmaker tells it.  Noni’s story holds us at a distance, she’s a perfectly likable character and Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives it all she’s got, showing Noni’s desperation lingering behind a weak facade of self-confidence and success. We sympathize. but at the same time the film fails to wow us, there’s simply nothing new to be offered by Beyond the Lights, it’s very likable but also pat and formulaic.

Noni’s story won’t astonish you, but it’s a solid pick for anyone who’s really taken a moment to think about the consequences borne of being rich and famous. Everybody’s wanted to be famous at some time, lauded and respected for what they’re good at. This movie might make you second guess that. Being unextraordinary and unrecognized has it’s perks, as Beyond the Lights readily points out. Beyond the Lights won’t blow your mind, but it might touch your heart, if you let it. Most of this is due to the lead’s performance, which never fails to surprise even when the film itself is totally predictable.


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