I caught up to Beyond the Lights based on a surprisingly good response from critics and the public. The trailer looks like a fairly typical “music industry & wealth destroys woman; love makes her whole again” movie and it certainly does adhere to the basic structure of one of those movies. But the script is smarter than the trailer lets on; the two main characters fall in love almost immediately upon meeting each other, despite the fact that she’s a Beyonce-esque figure and he’s a cop. Well, whatever. But the script isn’t a sugar-coated romance; their love story, aside from that beginning “love at first sight” nonsense, is rendered much more realistically than expected. But really the stars here are, well, the stars. The movie rises on the strength of the brilliant performances. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I absolutely loved in Belle, another movie that was very overlooked, gives another startlingly great performance here. She really is a phenomenal young actress and I hope to see her continue to get opportunities to show her talent. Also very good is Minnie Driver, an actress I feel like I haven’t seen in a movie for years and years, as her domineering mother. Again, it’s a stock character, but the script gives her some surprising layers and I was genuinely surprised by how I felt about the character at the close of the film. Nate Parker is not so good as the main male character, but he’s serviceable enough. I should also note Machine Gun Kelly plays a thuggish rapper in the film and he’s really amazingly good. There’s a brilliant scene that really gets at the ways in which popular culture both idolizes and loathes its goddesses; it marries, in a really disturbing way, sexual desire and violence and Kelly is genuinely brilliant in the scene. Anyway, the script has its clichés, but it handles them well and also turns them occasionally, just enough to surprise the viewer. Also, worth a mention is the music, which is genuinely really good at times. The closing song, the Oscar nominated Grateful, could easily be very cheesy, but it just works, damn it, and I found myself walking out of the movie feeling like a million bucks. It has its notes and it hits them, but sometimes a song is great because the melody is so familiar. Recommended. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – admittedly clichéd, but surprisingly smart, this showbiz drama rises on the wonderful performances, most especially the dazzlingly brilliant central turn by Mbatha-Raw. 3 ½ stars.