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Overall Rating
3

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average75%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 12.5%

1 review, 2 user ratings


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Beyond the Lights
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"Keep Reaching For The Stars"
3 stars

"Beyond the Lights" is a big, soapy show-biz melodrama involving the age-old chestnut of the glamorous world-famous superstar who falls in love with an ordinary civilian type, albeit one who just happens to be extraordinarily good-looking as well. On this level, it is nonsense but relatively agreeable nonsense for viewers who are not particularly  demanding. At the same time, it is also under the impression that it is a penetrating look behind the scenes of the contemporary star making machine and how talented people are reduced to mere commodities that are ruthlessly exploited for every possible buck by family and "friends" as well as the industry at large despite the emotional harm that they may be suffering amidst the relentless pursuit of celebrity. The trouble is that the insights that it has to offer are as shallow and vapid as the world that it thinks it is exposing and the end result is a bit of a mess that has a few bright spots here and there but which is never quite as smart and knowing about the world it depicts than it clearly thinks itself to be.

Our heroine is Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a new singing sensation who is so dynamic that she is already one of the most famous entertainers in the world despite having not a single album to her credit--only guest appearances on a couple of songs by her rapper boyfriend Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker). Despite the thinness of her current discography, one can easily understand why she is such a sensation--she has the pipes of Mariah, the lungs of Rihanna and the subtle fashion sense of Lady Gaga. Alas, thanks to the pressures of stardom and of her overbearing mom/manager (Minnie Driver), a woman who, as we see in the prologue, enters the 12-year-old Noni in a talent contest and then makes her throw away her trophy when she comes in second, she has the emotional stability of Britney Spears during her head-shaving, umbrella-whacking, K-Fed-marrying period. As a result of all this, the very same night that she has hit the pinnacle of her success to date--winning a Billboard Music Award--she gets drunk and prepares to hurl herself to her death from her hotel balcony. In a film in which much of the material on display is pure hooey, the notion that someone would come out of sitting through the Billboard Music Awards wanting to kill themselves is one of the few details that rings true.

Noni is rescued from being the centerpiece of the world’s shortest installment of behind the music at the last second when she is saved by Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), a hunky cop/aspiring politician who just happened to be there that night filling in for a friend as part of Noni’s security detail. The next day, Noni and her people try to pass the whole thing off as just the kind of silly thing that can happen when you combine a sexy starlet, champagne, a third-rate award show and a hotel balcony but both she and Kaz are further thrust into the media spotlight by those convinced that it was a genuine suicide attempt and Noni’s record company begins to suggest that they may postpone the release of her album because of all the publicity surrounding her. Despite all of this and despite the two different worlds they inhabit, Noni and Kaz begin to fall in love—much to the consternation of her mom, who doesn’t want this interloper to cause Noni to lose focus, and his dad (Danny Glover), who fears that the key figures that Kaz needs to step into the political ring won’t take him seriously if he is seeing one of the most famous and glamorous singers around—and after an on-stage dustup at the BET Awards between Kaz and Kid Culprit, the two flee the spotlight for Mexico and spend a few days getting to know each other while rediscovering who they are and what they want to be without any parents or stage managers around to dictate their moves. I wouldn’t dream of telling you how it ends except to tell you that yeah, you pretty much know exactly how it ends.

As you can tell, "Beyond the Lights" is essentially a riff on "Notting Hill" for the TMZ generation blended with an indictment of the myriad ways that the media machine can take a pure and unsullied talent--even at 12, Noni can sing "Blackbird" in a way that makes Nina Simone herself sound like Lionel Stander on a bender--and transform them into the kind of celebrity commodity for whom magazine covers and Internet chatter are at least as important, if not more so, than the art. (When John Sayles included the scene in "The Brother from Another Planet" in which an alien buys a record album and keeps the cover with the beautiful woman while nonchalantly discarding the weird disc inside, who knew he was essentially predicting where the music industry would eventually be headed?) Of the two elements, I prefer the former to the latter because while it is pretty much a load of overly familiar hooey throughout, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood at least serves it up in a reasonably engaging manner that helps to sell the numerous implausibilities. To this end she is aided immeasurably by the performances of the two leads, who demonstrate real chemistry together and who are both ridiculously attractive to boot. Additionally, Minnie Driver is a hoot throughout as Noni's imperious momager--she chews the scenery with such relentless abandon that you can't help but sort of like her character despite her utter loathsomeness.

However, when it gets to the stuff revealing the dark side of the business that you and I call show, that is where "Beyond the Lights" gets really, really silly. Granted, I am not expecting a sense of documentary-like realism from a film like this but if it is to succeed, it should at least feel reasonably plausible to the average moviegoer. The problem is that while the audience has gotten much savvier over the years about the world of show business thanks to things like "Entertainment Weekly" and the proliferation of industry gossip websites, this film hasn't and the result is a film for the digital era that feels as if it has been made by and for people who are still clinging to their cassingles. For example, the idea that Noni's record company would be hesitant to release her album--which, despite being her debut effort, appears to rival "Chinese Democracy" in terms of money spent and overall hype--in the wake of the controversy surrounding her is wildly unbelievable--if anything, they would have been frantically trying to get it out even earlier. (Actually, every single thing in the film regarding Noni and her record company rings painfully false throughout.) Additionally, while I understand that Prince-Bythewood is trying to make a statement about how the road to stardom has turned into a superhighway in which one can go from zero to superstar in a flash, Noni's incredible fame before really doing anything on note is pretty ridiculous. Put it this way--no one has cited "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" for its sense of realism but the meteoric rise of the Carrie Nations is infinitely more believable than what is on display here.

If you are content simply to wallow in melodramatic romantic trash involving good-looking people for a couple of hours and nothing else, "Beyond the Lights" might indeed prove to be mildly satisfactory, especially if your standards are not too rigorous in that regard. However, if you are looking for something that is a little more knowledgable about the world that it purports to depict--and that does appear to be the film's basic intention--and doesn't resort to the kind of cliches that were old hat back when 78's were all the rage and MTV played videos. you are likely to come away from it a little disappointed. After all, there are few things more frustrating than a film that rails against artistic conformity when it is itself guilty of that very same crime.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=27355&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/15/14 02:30:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/23/14 Bob Dog Classic genre romance - - Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the real deal!!!!! 5 stars
11/16/14 eddie lydecker Lobve stories are so ludicrously out-moded in this day and age. 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  14-Nov-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Feb-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  14-Nov-2014
  DVD: 24-Feb-2015




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