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

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