Beyond the Lights Blu-ray Review
Noni (India Jean-Jacques, in her debut) has a terrific voice and takes it to any talent show her mother will drive her to. Following a cheesy, judge-pleasing tap dance, Noni sets herself behind the microphone and goes into a Nina Simone song: Why you gotta fly, blackbird / You ain’t never gonna fly…
She’s awarded first runner-up. Her mother (Minnie Driver, who currently co-stars on NBC’s ABOUT A BOY) is disappointed and storms out when the tap dancing sailor, a “rhythmist idiot,” wins. She instructs Noni to toss the trophy, because those that are destined to be winners don’t have runner-up trophies.
Flash forward to the Billboard Awards and Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who won a British Independent Film Award for her turn in BELLE) taking the stage to accept the honor for Best Song. Her collaborator, Kid Culprit (Richard Colson Baker, who you may or may not know better as rapper Machine Gun Kelly) is quick to remind her just how big she’s become, having won a popular award before her first album even hit shelves. That night, her mother, who doubles as a controlling manager, finds her sitting on the edge of a hotel balcony, shaking and crying until she makes a leap. Pulling her to safety is a police officer named Kaz (Nate Parker, Spike Lee’s RED HOOK SUMMER), who shares an extended gaze with Noni so he can be identified as the future love interest. The romance that develops lets Noni learn more about who she is and who she wants to be.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS is quick to show just what fame can do to a young star. It’s also blunt about the media’s tendencies to make a story more profitable, the issues that arise when a celebrity has a parent as a manager and being in the spotlight for one talent has its drawbacks (at one point, Noni even gripes, “No one cares what I have to say.” Later, it’s “I feel like I’m suffocating in the middle of the street and no one sees me dying.”). It’s all of the expected areas one would expect a movie like this to cover.
Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood (2008’s THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, 2000’s LOVE & BASKETBALL) tries to add genuinely human moments to the story, particularly in the romance between Noni and Kaz, but these also fail. That’s not much of a surprise considering the relationship had a forced origin (it couldn’t have been Kaz’s cop father, played by Danny Glover, who rushed to Noni’s rescue?), but the viewer’s eyes really start rolling when Kaz jumps on stage to fend off a crude rapper disrespecting his boo.
Prince-Bythewood seems oblivious to just how silly and stale her latest is. At one point, Noni’s mother sits her down and says, “Congratulations. You’re a bloody cliché.” BEYOND THE LIGHTS has all the dimension, subtlety and originality of an MTV original movie.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song; “Grateful” lost to SELMA’s “Glory.”
Video: 1.78:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. BEYOND THE LIGHTS looks quite nice in high-definition and boasts strong colors and details.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Subtitles in English and Spanish. The audio is very good, particularly when the soundtrack kicks in.
Commentary by filmmakers Gina Prince-Bythewood, Tami Reiker and Terilyn Shropshire: The trio offers a decent, but far from thorough, commentary in which they dish out various production stories.
Escape to Mexico 2.0 (1:53): Stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker, as Noni and Kaz, play on the beach and in a hotel room.
Changing the Conversation (4:58): This promotional piece primarily puts the spotlight on director Prince-Bythwood, who touches on how she came up with the story.
Gary Theard: Boom Man (4:28) offers a look at the work of Theard, who passed away in 2014.
Deleted Scenes (6:05): There are five here, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “I’m Just Tired,” “I’ve Got This,” “This Is Crazy,” “What’s Going On Nutty Professor?” and “You Know You Like It.” Optional commentary by Prince-Bythewood, Reiker and Shropshire.
“Masterpiece” Music Video