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Beyond the lights stars Gugu Sophia Mbatha (Odd Thomas, Belle) as Noni, Minnie Driver as her stage mother Macy Jean who takes on the world and the record company for her girl, later it is mother vs. Nate Parker (Non-Stop, Arbitrage) as the cop, Kaz who saves Noni’s life and the two fall in love. Danny Glover is the police captain father of Kaz, Captain Nicol, who has big plans for his son in the world of politics. Written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees) Beyond the Lights starts with a young Noni winning first runner up in a local talent show in England and her mother telling her to throw the award away.
The next time we see Noni she is grown, sexy, and famous. She is the singing partner of Kid Culprit a tattooed white rapper who is riding the charts with Noni, who is also his girlfriend. She is celebrating a Billboard win and the girl who normally does not drink, starts knocking back champagne. On the way to her hotel room, followed by two personal assistants, she stops to tell Kaz, who has swapped guarding her room with his partner, that no one but her is allowed in.
He lets the singer in and the two assistants are refused entry. Macy Jean, comes up and after sending the disgruntled pair off to eat, she tell Kaz to let her in. After the cop opens the door and the woman enters, he hears her scream Noni’s name. Rushing in, he sees the girl sitting on her balcony and getting ready to jump. While he attempts to “talk her down” she pushes herself off. Kaz grabs her and while holding her hand tells her he sees her and pulls her up.
At a press conference the next day, he agrees to lie and say it is an accident. The young people are obviously attracted to one another and although their worlds are completely different, the two begin an affair. They get carried away and the film follows the two as mutual attraction goes beyond the initial attraction and becomes love. With Noni’s name “in lights” and Nate Parker’s character wanting to run for office, their story becomes about Minnie Driver as mum vs Kaz as the singer tries to find out what she really wants from life.
This is an engaging film. Gugu Sophia Mbatha is intoxicating as Noni. This actress gives her character a depth that is impressive, Noni feels real and never comes close to becoming a cliche, despite a storyline that came close to being just another love story. Minnie Driver as the English single mother who goes above and beyond her duties as manager, and ultimately pays a price for it, rocked her role of determined stage mom.
Nate Parker comes across as a combination of good cop, hopeful politician, and unless one is Minnie Driver’s character, the boy every mother wants her daughter to bring home. Prince-Blythewood gives the audience characters that are not too perfect. All of the players are flawed. Macy Jean wants success for Noni at any price, Kaz is conflicted between what he wants and what he needs and his father, Danny Glover forgets that his son’s life is his own to live. Even Kid Culprit has more sides to him than just one.
This movie is a brilliant blend of humor, angst and sexiness. There is a scene in the film on a private plane that is as funny as it is sexy. Part of the film’s power is its ability to mix these ingredients together in a way that pleases, casting the right performers helped as well. The chemistry between all the players worked very well, the actress who played 10 year old Noni, India Jean-Jacques in her first film, was a perfect fit as Ms. Driver’s young superstar in training.
Watching the film, the audience really cares for all the main characters, even Minnie Driver as the determined mother behind Noni’s success in Beyond the Lights. Before the end of the film, it is not just Noni struggling for control of her life, a sort of successful singer vs. the world, but she also has to decide how she feels about Nate Parker’s character in this entertaining love story. Beyond the Lights opens on November 14 in cinemas across the country. Prepare to be touched by these flawed but likeable characters.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theater 18.