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What may be compared to Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard far surpasses it to the point that the association is almost insulting.
Review (with Spoilers)
Between being a fan of Gugu Mbatha-Raw for years, and being an avid reader of the Black media website Shadow & Act, I have been anticipating this movie for months. Though, amongst Mbatha-Raw as a selling point, there is also Nate Parker, and the name Gina Prince-Bythewood. A name which may be unfamiliar, since she isn’t an actress, nor the most active, but with her being the writer/ director of The Secret Life of Bees and the classic Love & Basketball, it is difficult to not expect, after it being more than 6 years since her last film, that this could be anything less than a potential classic. Now, as for if the word “Classic” applies to Beyond the Lights, look below.
Characters & Story
Since she was a baby, singing for Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has been calming and gave her purpose. However, with her career guided by her mom/ manager Macy (Minnie Driver), she hasn’t had a career like her inspiration, Nina Simone. Instead, her mom guided her down the path of being a hyper-sexualized pop star. A life which, as can be seen in the trailer, leads her to attempt suicide. Something which Kaz (Nate Parker), an inspiring politician/ police officer, stops. And with him rescuing Noni begins Noni’s journey to rediscovering herself through the love she shares with Kaz.
Considering the journey Prince-Bythewood went on to make this movie, and the final product, I think all the headaches she went through to see this released was worth it. To begin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw continues to build a case for herself as not just a talented actress, but one who shall be considered one of the greats who young actors aspire to have a career like. For with her performance in this movie she presents the superficial beauty we almost solely see when it comes to pop stars, but humanizes them past whatever interview or personal record that can be released. For while, to my knowledge, Prince-Bythewood wasn’t directly looking at one sole pop star when writing this film, you could easily imagine Noni representing many of these pop stars whose lives have been controlled by external expectations as they did as they were told and looked every which way for someone to say no on their behalf .
Speaking on the story, in the marketing of the film, it used the newest meme: “This could be us, but you playin’” in order to highlight moments in Kaz and Noni’s relationship, and truly the happier parts of their relationship are moments you would not only envy, but aspire to have. For when you strip the fame and the money from the situation, there is this sort of interdependency. Which you can’t perhaps see, from the start, since Noni seems to need Kaz more than he needs her, but for what he offers in stability, she offers affection, love, and a chance to heal his rarely spoken on wounds.
Also, outside of the Noni and Kaz relationship, there is also the dynamic Noni and Kaz have with their parents Macy and Captain Nicol (Danny Glover). For Noni’s relationship with Macy, in itself, makes it so as much as this could be seen as a romance film, there is also a highly complicated drama in which Driver’s character has something to prove, and often you are led to wonder if she has Noni’s best intentions at heart, or simply is trying to craft her own success. As for Captain Nicol, his relationship with his son is less laden with issues, but he does help present the idea that something that went down in Kaz’s past left him with a bit of a broken heart, and a few unmentioned issues when it comes to relationships.
To me, the only real issue I can see someone having with this film is that Kaz’s character isn’t as defined as Noni’s. Leading you to have to make some assumptions as to what led him to become the man he is, besides idolizing his father. Outside of that, I must admit I was disappointed there weren’t more original songs from Noni. However, considering the few in the movie, like “Masterpiece” perhaps the lack of original songs should be considered a good thing. For if there is one sole thing The Bodyguard does better than Beyond The Lights, it would be the soundtrack.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Whether this film will join Love & Basketball as a classic, well I think only time will tell. For me, though, while I enjoyed the movie, and will probably watch it again, I can’t say this is an off the bat classic. For while it is entertaining, funny at times, and definitely will get multiple reactions out of you during the ups and downs of Noni and Kaz’s relationship, I just found it weird that no matter how good a scene, I never felt the need to cry. Which surprised me since I cry during the Annie trailer. So not once crying as Noni has to deal with Kaz’s hesitation, her dealing with her mother, or even crying when she was happy, it just makes me feel that while this is undeniably “Worth Seeing,” it isn’t the type of film I believe will become a signature role for Mbatha-Raw, Parker, or anyone involved. If anything, it will become just another brick on their road to standing next to, or maybe even above, the stars of yore.
Things to Note
Also, worth noting is the imagery which has most of Noni’s clothing deal with chains representing she is sort of a slave to the industry.