Actors make 'Beyond the Lights' work
'Beyond the Lights' is a good example of a movie overcoming itself. It battles cliches every step of the way, but the honesty of its two lead performances lift it up.
The movie follows Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a Rihanna-like pop singer and an up-and-comer in the hip-hop world. She's driven by her controlling momager (a stern Minnie Driver), who pushes her to become a star over all else.
But Noni isn't happy. One night after an awards show, she's dangling over the balcony of her Los Angeles hotel room, ready to take a fall. She's rescued by Kaz (Nate Parker), a caring police officer assigned to keep an eye on her.
When Kaz pulls her to safety, they click; he sees something in her vulnerability, she likes that he sees past her celebrity. Thus begins their unlikely romance and Noni's journey of self-discovery beyond, as the title says, the lights.
The dialogue is clunky ("I feel like I'm suffocating in the middle of the street and no one can see me dying," Noni says at one point) and the script runs down the checklist of familiar celeb-tale tropes, from the celebrity who longs to be a "real artist" to the star who, despite all the attention in the world, is lonely inside.
But Mbatha-Raw and Parker find the souls in their characters and their chemistry elevates the film above its straight-to-VH1 pedigree. And writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") scores by lending the film a dose of reality; rapper MGK plays Noni's friend, and Detroit rapper Big Sean makes a cameo as himself.
"Beyond the Lights" doesn't have much insight into the world of modern celebrity, but as a romance, its actors make it sing.
'Beyond the Lights'
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive gestures, partial nudity, language and thematic elements
Running time: 116 minutes