Movies I’ve Missed: “Beyond The Lights”

There’s nothing quite like a beautiful on-screen love story to make someone feel so single around Valentine’s Day. You laugh, but you know it’s true. Jokes aside, I finally got around to watching  “Beyond the Lights,” which has been sitting in my Netflix queue for far too long. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m so disappointed in myself for not having watched it sooner.

The film is centered on Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a rising pop star burdened by the price of fame and the police officer, Kaz (Nate Parker), who saves Noni from a potentially tragic accident. While the film could have quickly slipped into a Nicholas Sparks-esque tragic romance drama, the film doesn’t dwell in a sea of its own pity. Instead, it focuses on the career aspirations of the leads, particularly Noni and the mental and emotional trauma she’s faced to become a star and how this relationship with Kaz, who sees through her popstar persona, ultimately pushes her to see herself.

Stay with me as I make this comparison, but Noni reminded me a lot of the protagonist, Lucky, in the Britney Spears song “Lucky,” in which Brit sings about a pop star plagued by inner demons while living this seemingly perfect life. Noni represents everything wrong with the media-driven celebrity culture. Everything about her is so perfectly curated that her label would rather drop her than deal with any person problems and her mom/manager (Minnie Driver) doesn’t want to hear that she’s anything but perfectly happy with her life.

Kaz is the character who not only literally saves Noni when she’s on the brink of death, the facade having taken too much of a toll on her, but also proves to Noni that she has to save herself. This is what really stood out for me. Director and Screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood did an incredible job in pushing out the cliche of the knight in shining armor who spends two hours carrying the damsel in distress along by ultimately giving Noni the opportunity to save herself. Kaz may have shown Noni the light but she does the heavy lifting in reinventing her life and career on her own terms.

During the scene in which Kaz saves Noni from her potential fall, she tells him that he like everybody else and doesn’t see her for who she really is, to which he replies, “I see you. I see you.” The film really stands by this, which is refreshing. Kaz is never pushing Noni to be anything other than who she wants to be and even encourages her to stand her ground against her mother, who’s willing to do anything to make Noni a star. It never feels like he’s controlling her, rather it’s he’s almost like he’s her personal cheerleader.

Long story short, “Beyond the Lights” is a really good movie. The acting is absolutely stellar, especially by Mbatha-Raw, Parker, and Driver. While I haven’t been privy to much of Mbatha-Raw’s other work, her portrayal of Noni has so much depth, I’m amazed she didn’t receive more recognition. Similarly, Driver’s performance of a Kris Jenner-esque momager brought so much to the table that, again, I’m surprised I didn’t hear much buzz about her.

This is a film that uses a tried formula and is (mostly) able to make it something excited. This film is worth the watch so don’t worry about wasting two hours of your life, you won’t be.

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