Saturday, November 29, 2014

BEYOND THE LIGHTS (2014)

Written & Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 17. 2014  8:45PM



"Beyond The Lights" tells the overly familiar story of a young woman desperately seeking fame and fortune as a performer and discovering after achieving this success how much of your personal life must be sacrificed. However, in the hands of Gina Prince-Bythewood, the writer/director best known for the cult film, "Love & Basketball", she offers a modern and fresher approach to this oft-told tale. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who impressed earlier this year with her corseted role in the sleeper-hit, "Belle", plays the woman in question and dazzles once again as a Brit on the verge of breaking out in to pop super-stardom.

As a young child, Noni is given a life lesson from her ambitiously driven, single mother, Macy (Minnie Driver) after placing runner-up in a local talent contest. She tells her daughter to chuck the prize as she should never settle for that if she wants to become a winner. This advice seems to pay off later with Noni (Mbatha-Raw) as she eventually becomes a rising pop star. Following the lead of current popular female singers like Rihanna and Katy Perry, Noni performs scantily clad with a calculated image that is overtly sexual.

After winning a Billboard Award for the collaboration with her publicity-generating boyfriend, hip-hop artist, Kid Culprit (played by real-life rapper, Richard "MGK" Baker), Noni should be on top of the world. But after an alcohol-fueled limo ride to her hotel, she's in no mood to celebrate. For some unclear reason, Noni is suddenly ready to end her life as she dangles off the ledge of her balcony. Luckily, a handsome police officer, Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) guarding her room is there to save her before she falls to a tragic end. There is a connection between these two in that brief instant but they quickly must return to their own lives. The media gets wind of this attempted suicide and Macy, now her manager, whips together a press conference to claim an accident with Officer Nicol reluctantly there to back the story up.

These two are now linked due to this deception and find themselves drawn even closer to each other. Noni and Kaz sneak away from the glaring eyes of the world, attempting to share some private time together but due to their hectic jobs, these moments tend to be not nearly long enough. Not everyone is happy about this burgeoning romance. Macy sees this police officer as an extraneous distraction to her daughter's career and an unpleasant reminder of the incident. Kaz's father, Captain David Nicol (Danny Glover) thinks his son should take advantage of this attention and pursue their future plan of a political career right now. But a girl like Noni would be completely unsuitable to have by his side.

Ms Mbatha-Raw has all the right moves that makes her quite convincing as a pop singer and it's actually her voice you hear during the performances. She is one to watch and this role should certainly help her breakout. Mr. Parker is very appealing and has a nice, easy vibe with his co-star but his noble character is just little too good to be true. Ms Driver, a fine, underrated actress who many might forget received an Oscar nod for one of her early roles in "Good Will Hunting", is terrific as a mother whose better judgement is clouded by her relentless pursuit of stardom, seemingly for her child.

What Mrs. Prince-Bythewood has done with the highly entertaining "Beyond The Lights" is quite surprising. For what could have easily been a by-the numbers melodrama is elevated by her supple, well-crafted screenplay. While the script doesn't completely shake all of the camp loose (which is actually a good thing), it does succeed with a focus on rich emotions and an intimate love story. Prince-Bythewood displays such a steady, masterful hand as a filmmaker that it's utterly shameful that this is only her third feature in fourteen years. Sadly, it's quite clear that gender and choice of material made it very difficult for the director to get a project off the ground

"Beyond The Lights" is fizzy and fun, delighting with a glittering parable regarding the present-day  music industry. What makes this stand apart from other show-business yarns are persuasive characters and at the heart of the film, a credible romance despite the incredible circumstance that brings these two disparate individuals together.