Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Reviews: Beyond The Lights

A troubled pop star falls for a young cop who saves her from her attempted suicide. The premise seems simple enough. But Beyond the Lights, written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, doesn’t stop there. There’s also a scheming stage mom, a bad ex-boyfriend, a manipulative record label and, if that’s not enough, the young cop is also running for political office. The film’s plot is so over-complicated that not even it’s talented cast can save it.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) stars as Noni Jean, a scantly-clad Rihanna-esque pop singer who is tired of the public persona that she and her fame-hungry mother, played by an excellent Minnie Driver, have created. Nate Parker (Non-Stop) plays Kaz Nicol, a police officer assigned to guard Noni’s hotel room on the same night that she tries to jump off the balcony. He manages to pull her up off the railing before she falls and so their love story begins.

Mbatha-Raw shows great range as she manages to go from a jaded starlet to a spunky everygirl within the film. She and Parker both give life to characters that could very easily have come across as one-dimensional. It’s their performances that give the film some heart.

The script is clunky and predictable. It plays out like a made-for-TV movie, complete with meddling parents and romantic beach getaways.

Beyond the Lights does have some nice moments, like when Mbatha-Raw, free of all the pop star glam, sings Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” in a karaoke bar. But, ultimately the movie tries be too many things all at once. Prince-Bythewood, who has previously written and directed The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Love and Basketball (2000), has dealt with complex material well before. Beyond the Lights tries to do too much. It gets in the way of itself.

Haley Chouinard

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Reviews: The Riot Club

For a Danish director, Lone Scherfig sure is able to cut right to the nitty-gritty of the British class structure. Her past two films – the stellar An Education (2009) and the less stellar One Day (2011) – have both focused on the dynamics between rich English boys and poor English girls. Scherfig’s latest endeavor, The Riot Club, examines the same themes in a much less subtle way – at one point a character actually screams “I’m so sick of poor people.”

Adapted by screenwriter Laura Wade from her 2010 play Posh, The Riot Club follows two Oxford freshman, Alistair Ryle played by Sam Claflin, (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Miles Richards played by Max Irons (The Host), who are selected to join the infamous Riot Club, where their membership hinges on the events of a single dinner party.

The film is superbly acted even if the cast is a tad too old to be playing college students. Sure, most of these guys are closer to 30 than 20, but Scherfig keeps you too intrigued to care.

The cast of

The cast of “The Riot Club.” Photo by IFC Films.

Claflin plays Alistair splendidly as an over privileged yuppie who sneers, pouts and schemes. Irons is a perfect foil as Miles, a humble but obtuse guy who was raised in a world of wealth and status. Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) shines as Miles’ girlfriend, a plucky girl from a middle-class family who experiences just how vile the club can be.

The film also features small but significant supporting performances from Douglas Booth (Noah), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) and Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones).

The Riot Club gets violently political in a hurry and the characters are so despicable that some scenes are hard to watch. It’s a film that you’ll have a reaction to– but isn’t that the mark of something really great?

Haley Chouinard