So, this is awkward. It’s been a while and by a while I mean network shows have been developed, filmed, debuted and canceled in the time that I’ve been away. But I am somewhat of a perfectionist and didn’t want to give my readers no mediocre.
Now that I’ve addressed that, let’s get to the subject at hand. Last weekend I went by my lonesome to see the highly anticipated (at least in my mind) film Beyond the Lights. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the creative force behind Love and Basketball (a Black romance classic), Beyond the Lights was a burst of spontaneous energy in a fall season of “eh” movies.
Does it measure up to L&B? No, but it's enjoyable all the same… And more topical than ever. With a release amidst Kim Kardashian’s attempt to “Break the Internet” and that catastrophic Aaliyah Lifetime movie, Beyond the Lights is firmly planted in the “now”. It explores --and in many cases confirms my own speculations on-- life for emerging pop divas. Think of a Rita Ora or Rihanna type. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (of 2013’s Belle) stars as Noni Jean, a singer on the brink of super stardom. She’s got the raw sex appeal, the accredited rapper boyfriend, the singing chops and a highly anticipated first album just weeks from its debut. Yet, she feels so alone. (Cue the violin strings and “Poor rich girl” sentiments.) Noni’s stage-mom-from-hell, played by a cutthroat Minnie Driver, says it best when she proclaims, “Congrats, you’re a bloody cliché!”
If you’ve watched the commercials, it's no shocker that Mbatha-Raw’s character attempts to end her life on the balcony of a ritzy hotel after a win at the Billboard Awards. She’s saved by Kaz (Nate Parker), a young LAPD officer covering a shift for a friend. Thankfully, that’s where the triteness ends. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried as the two exchanged an intense moment after Kaz pulls Noni back onto the balcony.
What follows is an intense love affair involving a damaged girl with bad press and a do-good guy with hopes of becoming the Corey Booker of Los Angeles. Mbatha-Raw tackles a challenging role that delves into the hyper-sexualization of female artists and their need for a male co-signer. Unlike Noni’s manufactured career, the chemistry between Mbatha-Raw and Parker proves to be refreshingly organic. When the two escape the madness of L.A. for a few days, Noni takes out her weave and bares her soul.