Take a Sip: every time someone mentions the balcony
Take a Sip: every time someone says “I see you”
Take a Sip: every time you’re positive someone is about to bone.
Take a Sip: every time paparazzi appears
By: The Cinephiliac (Two Beers) –
Being a celebrity isn’t easy. As someone who’s never been a celebrity, I can’t say that with undeniable confidence, but autobiographies, song lyrics, frequent mental break breakdowns, and suicide within the Hollywood community confirms that money in fact, cannot buy you happiness. There’s a current ailment in society where humanity has a tendency to lack compassion for celebrities strictly because of their affluent positions in society. A mental breakdown gets laughed at, judged, and prodded even. Celebrities are chided by semi-psychopaths online to “finish the job” if they have attempted suicide or even declared starved for attention if their actions are worrisome.
Though the late Biggie Smalls said the truth best when he told the world, “mo money, mo problems,” the mass public is still under the assumption that fame, bright lights, and money is a cure to all pain. This thought is fortified by the general gripe which is anyone who possesses all three should never complain or God forbid be unhappy. This is largely why Beyond the Lights works so well as a film. It’s a romantic tale umbrellaed by a social commentary on the way we perceive celebrities and how they in turn see themselves.
Forgive us for creating this monster. We knew not what we were doing.
Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) begins the film as the It Girl celebrity. She’s featured on three chart topping singles and is poised to be pop diva who smashes records when her debut album finally releases. Everyone expects greatness from Noni, which causes her to crumble under that pressure. During a night of celebration after winning her first Billboard award, Noni decides to end it all and jump from her balcony. Fortunately, Kaz (Nate Parker), a kind-hearted policeman in the right place at the right time, saves her by convincing her he sees her for who she is or could be. The two fall in love, developing a deep connection, but must battle the overshadowing presence of stardom and fame along with Noni’s stage mom, Macy (Minnie Driver).
Surprisingly, Beyond the Lights is a brilliant and powerful film. A multitude of cultural stereotypes is confronted. Female objectification gets explored while mental health is brought to the forefront all the while interrogating our worship of celebrity culture. It’s rare to find any one of these topics in a Hollywood film, let alone all three. Writer and director Gina Prince-Bythewood takes great pains to explore the sexualization of women in mainstream consciousness. Noni’s image is identical to female chart toppers in the past few years. Noni’s outfits fetishize the female form through leather, zippers, and missing parts. Though a shy, calm girl who only wants to sing, Noni’s image is controlled by a mother who is aware of how the game works, forcing Noni into uncomfortable situations.
Bythewood’s script delicately humanizes Noni and her situation, even though it’s one well beyond the average person’s comprehension. Through detailed quick cuts arranged perfectly by editor Terilyn A. Shropshire, we learn everything we need to know about Kaz and Noni within the first 30 minutes of the film, aligning us immediately with their charm. When we meet Kaz after saving Noni’s life, he goes home to wind down from the flashing camera and burgeoning reporters. He opens the door to greet his dog and makes his way to the kitchen for a drink of coconut water before checking his messages. In that short amount of time, we learn about his character and sense of self through the motivational quotes on his refrigerator door and pictures strewn throughout his home. We learn of his devotion to helping others before he even physically has to say so.
Shropshire deserves an ample amount of credit for her exceptionally orchestrated scene transitions. Beyond the Lights is filled with wonderful montages that move the story along with fluid urgency. Noni’s first performance as a child of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” includes the process of watching the performance before cuts move along to show bits of other performances and the ending ceremony in which Noni wins second place, to her excitement and the disappointment of Macy. All the while Noni’s impressive voice serenades audiences with the song. The washed-out gray cinematography of the scene ends with Macy forcing Noni to prove if she wants to be “second best” or not, then shifts forward to a stylized, glossy world of Noni now, a sex kitten whose body is prized before her music.
Now, while Beyond the Lights is a powerful drama ripe with emotion and heart, it’s still a Hollywood film that delivers typical, eye-rolling parts. Everyone is always in the right place at the right time to save the day and everyone looks immaculate. A classic scene of the film due to its sheer hilarity is when a frustrated Noni is framing pictures in her home. Kaz appears from nowhere to stop her before he notices her bloody hand. He promptly removes his shirt (revealing his perfectly chiseled Adonis body) for her to use as a bandage. While the scene is a swoon-worthy moment for women, it also conjured up scenarios frequently seen in cheap pornos. Actually, Beyond the Lights has quite a few porn-worthy moments.
“When I think about you I touch myself”
Despite its typical moments, Beyond the Lights kind of blew me away. It’s an intelligent reminder to have a heart for humanity despite their status or how much money they have. Beyond the Lights is an uplifting romantic drama that promotes self-discovery and self-assurance in women. It doesn’t judge the women who use sexuality to make it to the top, but merely shows audiences that the glitzy lifestyle isn’t meant for everyone and not every celebrity craves the spotlight. Some just want to sing, dance, or act, and an invasion of privacy shouldn’t have to be the price they pay for it. Beyond the Lights villainizes the system we have put in place, not those involved.