Beyond the Lights
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Noni Jean is a hot new rising star. But not all is what it seems, and the pressure causes Noni to nearly fall apart - until she meets Kaz Nicol, a promising young cop and aspiring politician who's been assigned to her detail. Can Kaz's love give Noni the courage to find her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be?
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★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Delicate feeling crashing like waves, bed sheets conforming to their owner, hues of red and blue dancing across the musical stage, and eyes interlocking within it all. Two outstanding leads, one sensual and intoxicating dose of chemistry, and honest direction culminates in a thunderous melodrama of luscious glances and dynamic storytelling.
A great movie.
★★★★ review by Genevieve Koski on Letterboxd
I reviewed this for The Dissolve (thedissolve.com/reviews/1215-beyond-the-lights/) and will be writing more about it in the near future. It's so rare for a romantic movie to just let itself be romantic without shame or snark or irony. For that reason alone it's exceptional, but there's a lot more to recommend it as well.
★★★★ review by Tasha Robinson on Letterboxd
In some ways a solid but not exceptional romance, one of those stories of two pretty people trying to figure out how to make it together. But the construction, the performances, and above all the adultiness of the story make this one stand out: It isn't a rom-com or a melodrama, it's a story about exceptional people that actually feels real. I've written about this one a bunch, specifically about its place in the current fractured, troubled state of romantic films and how its director got it made and what she intended, which was difficult to navigate in a release environment that doesn't properly value romances, or stories about people of color. The lead performances are particularly winning, but overall this is just a strong film, and a sweet one in surprising ways.
★★★★ review by Savannah Oakes on Letterboxd
Gina Prince-Bythewood works far too seldom for my liking which is saying a lot since I haven’t seen a lot of her work but what I have seen is exquisite in every aspect. Beyond the Lights is a miracle. It features a great script, as is expected from Prince-Bythewood, with passionate and full characters, completed arcs, simple but noteworthy dialogue and earned twists.
The direction is subtle playing to the film’s dramatic center but expands even Prince-Bythewood’s usual techniques when bringing the audience into the music scene the film explores. The transition to and from the Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in real life to the music scene is done in a way that mimics and draws from the usual cinematography of the real world, making them appear more realistic but at the same time highlighting the overwhelming nature of her fame. Even if it wasn’t so successful there would be no worrying since Gugu Mbatha-Raw would cover up any bases are lack of sympathy from any audience. She delves easily between the constant suffocation of her real self and the persona she is forced to wear. She is a thrill to watch in all her musical performances from the rapey music videos to her Nina Simone “Blackbird” cover, and all add a layer to her persona or strip one away.
The movie works on so many levels. Prince-Blythewood, as always, makes a film which in concept could be alienating but because of her heart and her precision as a writer and filmmaker makes it accessible to any audience. It’s a story of family, love and isolation, something anyone can connect with. Most recent dramas can’t do that. Definitely worth the watch and, now, one of my favorite films of 2014.
★★★★ review by Vincent Lao on Letterboxd
As conventional, silly, and soapy as it is, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s well-crafted melodrama surprises with utmost sensitivity and passion in exploring the superficiality of fame, and finding your true self. Not only that, the film sharply critiqued the degrading show business politics as well its concerns on objectifying women (and sexism) in the entertainment industry which is stirring in a way. Gugu Mbatha-Raw sizzles in this star-making performance as the troubled pop star Noni Jean, who tries to find herself amidst all the glamour of stardom.
What I really admire about Prince-Bythewood’s go for broke soapy drama is that passion for her characters. The narrative is totally conventional to a fault, but the film’s treatment to its characters is well-handed and complex. As I am watching, I already know from the start what will happen to these characters. But I am astounded by the amount of sincerity that the actors brought to their characters as well as the tight screenplay/direction which are really noteworthy.
Much of the film’s power comes from its actors who all gave solid performances. Gugu Mbatha-Raw again is fearlessly phenomenal as the pop star Noni Jean. Mbatha-Raw brings a refreshing femininity and complexity to her character which I think is crucial in this kind of film. The film's stirring moment is when we see the onscreen Noni relegated to this downright trashy pop star and Mbatha-Raw is fearlessly committed which is really exceptional. Equally great is Nate Parker as Noni Jean’s man candy/hero, Kaz, who again gives a refreshing sense of masculinity onscreen. Minnie Driver and Danny Glover are also solid in their complex supporting performances. Overall let’s face it, Beyond the Lights is a fantasy melodrama but what makes it standout and entertaining are the message of universal love and self-worth that it sincerely expresses which I think is more powerful and important.
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