Beyond the Lights Shines Despite Not Finding an Audience

BEYOND THE LIGHTS – 5 stars (out of 5)

Where’s the love for Beyond the Lights? Gina Prince-Bythewood’s wonderfully entertaining film has not found an audience and it should. For 2 hours, I smiled, cried (tried desperately to get the person in front of me off his cellphone) and felt enchanted by some of the singing that took place. The acting is first-rate. It’s hard to take your eyes off Gugu Mbatha-Raw; she excels as a Beyoncé-type young singer who gets caught up in the over-exposure of pretty young stars. It takes a handsome policeman (the very likeable Nate Parker) – The Great Debaters, forgot all about that good film!) to both save her life and tell her about truth for her to change.

And what a change it is!  In a brilliant scene, she cuts her long nails, knifes off her straight hair extensions, and heads to a Mexican beach bar where she is persuaded to save Parker and sing. I read that they wanted a white actor for Parker’s role. Thank goodness they didn’t do that. Her mother is played by Minnie Driver, but she was abandoned by the African American father at age 17.  Danny Glover plays his father – I will go see anything he is in, dating way back to Silverado. (“They took the boy.” – one of my great cinematic moments.)

This film will be on my Top 10, and I’ve already seen it on a couple others, most notably Manohla Dargis of The New York Times.  I don’t think they knew how to market this film – it didn’t resonate for the African American audience (see Dear White People); it didn’t play in art houses. Dargis wrote that as of early December only one of the 20 top-grossing films featured a straight couple. Who knew that would so quickly become a staple of yesteryear?

Go see this film if you get a chance over the holidays. You will come out smiling and moved.

About Ronn Levine

Ronn blogged before the term existed - as the arts editor and pro basketball writer (The Court Jester) for the Rutgers Daily Targum. I reviewed the original Dreamgirls and interviewed the lead, Sheryl Lee Ralph, who was from Rutgers. From there I went to The Washington Post covering duckpin bowling, preseason football, tennis and a baseball oldtimers game with Joe Dimaggio. Next I collected a couple Super Bowl rings with the Washington Redskins, wrote for radio, wrote cover stories for the Post's Weekend section (started ushering after my story on it), covered diversity in the newspaper world and then started going to film festivals and conducting interviews - Sarah Polley, Julie Delpy and Kristin Scott-Thomas among others. Now I blog daily for the Software & Information Industry Association and run The ArtHouse Meetiup.

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