Beyond the Lights (2014)
Written by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
“I see you.” ~ Kaz
Another music movie I watched this past weekend that I loved so much I watched it twice. Beyond the Lights managed to tell a story that isn’t necessarily new, and that could have been incredibly contrived and full of the hero saves the damsel in distress, but wasn’t. No, this told a story about two people who had allowed their “dreams” to be navigated, and scripted, by other people (in this case, one of each of their parents). These “dreams” eventually became shackles and stones tied tightly to them causing each to sink into their own potential demise.
At the start, when Kaz (Nate Parker) saves a falling Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) he is able to get her to choose to hang on by telling her he sees her. Later she volleys the words back to him, saying she sees him, this “view” a life line for both of them. So, they see each other, and for awhile, one could say they save each other, but it isn’t enough. No, it isn’t the end of their story, or one could argue their beginning, until they see and save themselves. Sound cheesy and trite? Well, it isn’t either. On the contrary, there is a freshness to how the story unfolds, and the performances are brilliant in the way these two leads communicate often without words. Both Nate and Gugu have some of the most expressive eyes I’ve seen in ages (they see each other, and damn, does it not feel like they see me, too).
I was left with a even bigger distaste for the paparazzi, as well as an uncomfortable feeling about the way we view “celebrity” and the expectations, and demands for “story” from artists. This is a bigger subject for a different post that I might tackle at some point, but basically it made me rethink and question the way that artists are presented, and how we as listeners and viewers and the audience consume art. See, this isn’t just a love story, or a soap opera music story, it is much more than that.
The character of Noni, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance, was by far my favorite of the film, as was the writing of the story. The “female gaze” in regards to sex and desire and love was especially appreciated. I loved the complexity of her character, the journey she was on, and the way she portrayed someone with more than one trait to portray – strength, vulnerability, fear, weakness, love, loss, anger, passion, instability, drive, confusion, and everything else that makes up a person.
Beyond the Lights premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2014 and was released theatrically in the United States on November 14, 2014. In 2015, the song Grateful, written by Diane Warren for the film, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Beyond the Lights received positive notices with The Hollywood Reporter praising Mbatha-Raw’s performance as “incandescent” and Prince-Bythewood’s script for its “surprising integrity.” Hitfix used the film to argue that writer/director “Gina Prince-Bythewood isn’t working enough” while Variety called it “messy but undeniably entertaining.”