In 1992, audiences swooned over The Bodyguard, and now that Whitney Houston is gone, many of us are likely to remember her as she appears in this film.
Alas, Beyond the Lights–in which a pop star once again falls for the stand-up guy who has been hired to protect her–plays like a pale copy.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker are both gorgeous, but both performances are on the surface. Neither of them dig deep as individuals, and they have minimal chemistry together. Worse yet, no matter how hard she tries, Mbatha-Raw simply lacks the big voice of a great singer. So the plot simply churns along, totally predictable from beginning to end.
Only Minnie Driver, playing Mbatha-Raw’s ferocious stage mother, hits a homer. I’ll bet she listened to multiple recordings of Gypsy as she transformed herself into the definitive “Mama Rose” of our new millennium! (JLH: 3/4)
Written & directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.
Beyond the Lights is the newest film written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (best known for her decade-old hit Love & Basketball). This rehash of The Bodyguard stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as “Noni,” a beautiful, accomplished singer who wants to ditch the money-making hip hop genre for inspirational, poetic songs that speak to her soul. Although Mbatha-Raw sings well enough, she’s no Whitney Houston, singing softer and quieter numbers at the times she’s intended to belt it out. Specifically, when she does a Nina Simone song, she fails to give the audience a thrill of a believable, accomplished singer.
Noni is at the edge of success singing for “Kid Culprit” (Richard Colson Baker, aka rapper Machine Gun Kelly) and yearns to cross over into a solo career. But as Noni comes into her own, the mainstream hip hop her mother/manager “Macy Jean” (Minnie Driver) pushed her into starts feeling incredibly false. She’s not connecting with the chart-topping music making her a star and feels the only way out is suicide. Thankfully for Noni, on-duty cop “Kaz” (Nate Parker) sees her suicide attempt and saves her from jumping off a balcony. Their bond over their smothering parents leads to their inevitable romance where they can finally be themselves. When the two run off together, Noni feels healed and restored as she pulls out her hair extensions, takes off her stage makeup, and exchanges her fashionista outfits for t-shirts and shorts. She’s back to being Noni, the little girl from Brixton, now that she has a love with someone who sees her when no one else did – and saved her when no one else could.
Beyond the Lights big, glossy, and beautiful with incredible costume design and impressive musical numbers – but lacks any sort of energy. The only life comes from Minnie Driver as the mother from hell (an update of the Mama Rose character from Gypsy). Macy Jean explains to Noni that her parents refused to help her when she was a 17-year-old girl carrying a black man’s baby, “I had to do the best I could by you and you have this incredible gift to sing.” Noni yells, “You did it for yourself.” Although the scene is standard and straight out of Gypsy, Minnie Driver says, “No, I did it for you,” with an incredible amount of energy and passion. She comes through as the ferocious Macy Jean, making Gugu Mbatha-Raw seem weaker than she already was.
The glossy film will most likely do well because of the music and costuming, but between the predictable storyline and a disappointing lead as an actress and singer, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest effort does not live up to the hype.
Top Photo: “Noni Jean” (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and “Kaz Nicol” (Nate Parker) flee to Mexico to escape the limelight.
Bottom Photo: Noni with her ferocious stage mother “Macy” (Minnie Driver).
Photo Credits: Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner/Blackbird Productions, LLC
Q: Does Beyond the Lights pass the Bechdel Test?
In a wonderful scene at the very beginning, Macy convinces a hairdresser in Brixton to teach her how to manage Noni’s kinky hair. From that point forward, Macy devotes herself completely to Noni’s career, battling everyone who gets in her way.
Danny Glover–as Kaz’s father–is also ambitious, but he has none of Macy’s energy.