Dr. Donna Copeland’s



beyond the lights

 ​For those who don’t remember Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard or the everyman falling in love with a movie-star theme in Notting Hill, then Beyond the Lights might be an interesting and refreshing take on the pains of celebrity. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythwood had a hit with the 2000 romance Love & Basketball; The Secret Life of Bees underwhelmed financially, but delivered a strong message. Beyond the Lights certainly allows Raw, who starred in Belle earlier this year, to showcase her range as an actress. It’s not the newest concept in theaters, and while Bythwood’s script acknowledges all the clichés it’s working with, it’s still the right kind of feel good film.

 ​Since she was 10 years old, Noni (Raw) has been pushed by her mother Macy (Driver) to be famous and adored by the public. Now a hip hop sensation, with fans and paparazzi everywhere, Noni looks at her life, wonders where she got lost, and decides jumping off her balcony might be the answer. Los Angeles police officer Kaz (Parker), filling in for a friend, happened to be the guard on duty that night. “I see you” he says, saving her from the ledge. Together he helps Noni redefine herself as an artist as they start a whirlwind romance.

 ​Clichés and stereotypes really plague the film, yet our society is so obsessed with celebrity that Bythwood is able to take advantage of it. More so than the previous films I mentioned, Bythwood takes the production to real hip-hop events like the BET awards and the CNN studio with Don Lemons. The script and production make it very easy to believe that Noni is a real star, and that we are just privy to all these private and personal moments. Of course, like all of her films, Bythwood has a generally positive message here about changing, self-discovery and, of course, love.

 ​Parker and Raw have tremendous chemistry; the entire film depends on it. In just one year Raw plays a disenfranchised 18th Century mixed race daughter to a sexually explicit hip-hop star--think Lil' Kim. Parker (Redtails, Arbitrage) finally gets a leading role, although the film seems far more interested in his physique than his acting talent, even having him remove his shirt when Noni cuts her hand. Minnie Driver really steps outside her comfort zone playing an overly ambitious, spiteful mother, and she is fantastic. While many may find this story too congenial, it’s got just enough authenticity to buy into.

 Final Thought – A modern update on The Bodygaurd.

 Grade B-

By: Dustin Chase

 Gugu Mbatha-Raw lives up to her performance in Belle (albeit an entirely different character) as Noni in Beyond the Lights.   Here, she is a pop singer with moves that look like Beyonce.  (The filmmakers did use Lady Gaga’s choreographer, and patterned some of Noni’s moves after Beyonce’s.)  The story opens with Noni as a young girl competing in a talent contest, and immediately we get a picture of her domineering mother (Minnie Driver) who is determined to make her into a star one way or another.  Jump to Noni as a young adult, and we see what fame is doing to her; all is not well.  But she meets a young policeman, Kaz (Nate Parker), who helps her to her feet, but their people on both sides are opposed to a romantic relationship.  Kaz’s family, especially his father (Danny Glover) is grooming him for a political career, so a rock star mate would be a distraction.  But they are keenly attracted to one another, and the story goes into the rocky road ahead of them and the psychological steps Noni must take to become her own person.

 Gina Prince-Bythewood, writer/director, has produced an inspiring, believable story that moves at a good pace with fine dramatic moments.  Her points about the hazards of fame are topical, and her depiction of parents overly invested in their children’s lives is apt, although in both instances she is able to present them as both comical and heartbreaking.  

 Mbatha-Raw and Parker are really superb together, not only in moments of love and attraction, but as well in uncertainty and in decidedly different opinions.  Their interactions are nuanced and silences are sometimes overflowing with meaning.  Although Beyond the Lights is not groundbreaking, it is entertaining with sound messages.  The soundtrack is beautifully done, boosted by some songs written by R&B Terius “The Dream” Nash and Richard C. Baker.  Mbatha-Raw’s a capella rendition of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” is impressive as well as moving.

Nicely entertaining and uplifting.

Grade:  B+  

By Donna R. Copeland