Beyond the Lights (written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood)
[01 of #52FilmsByWomen]
Most audiences can easily ignore plot holes and contrivances in a movie as long they’re invested in the characters. Or when the characters feel like real people, so that we’re immersed in their lives and moment-to-moment interactions that we don’t notice the plot. Beyond the Lights probably lies in the latter category.
The movie sets itself up to be the story of a Noni, a young singer from Brixton, who became a huge pop-star in the US. One night she was rescued from a suicide attempt by a police officer Kaz. That’s where the movie really gets going as the story explores their blossoming relationship and delves into each of their lives. While it’s not surprising that the overall plot points follows the same structure as almost any romantic drama, the movie does raise interesting questions and ideas along the way.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the movie (to me, at least) was how Noni and Kaz influence each other’s lives. In a way, the story is a sort of concatenation of two tropes: one where opposites attract, and another which is the romantic ideal where the couple is greater than the sum of its individuals. When they first meet and get attracted to one another, their interactions and flirtations are amusing and fun, but causes problems in their careers. Then we see how they learn more about each other’s lives and eventually figure out how to be supportive and help each other.
Danny Glover and Minnie Driver have supporting roles as Kaz’ father and Noni’s mother respectively. Being the Hollywood veterans as they are, both delivered great performances. Both play parents who are heavily involved in their child’s careers and feel that their work is threatened by Noni and Kaz’ relationship. While Driver has considerably more screen time than Glover, her character, for the most part, was portrayed as the relentless pageant mom trope. We only get to see more of her depth and complexity towards the end of the movie.
The movie did do a good job showing how the ugliness of celebrity culture influences Noni’s life. Anyone remotely familiar with the pop music industry know that for most pop-stars, their appearance, personality, and even their personal lives are a manufactured brand designed to sell tickets and records. I did get a sense on how Noni’s `image’ is at odds with true personality. This translates into her actual music as well, as we get scenes on how record executives object to Noni writing her own music. So just like her image, we see how Noni’s pop songs are at odds with Noni’s true music.
Even though the movie had a pretty generic romantic drama plot, its setting and chemistry between the characters makes it interesting, even to me who’s not typically a fan of the genre.