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Friday, November 21, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: Beyond the Lights

The Buzz: Romance is dead... at least on the silver screen. Sure, they still pump out romantic comedies once or twice a year, and the eternal push for four-quadrant marketability means that virtually every mainstream action movie will have some sort of romantic subplot. But that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking romance, swooning, powerful, and emotional. Thankfully, no one told that to Love & Basketball writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who has teamed up with Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Nate Parker (Non-Stop) for Beyond the Lights, a backstage melodrama about an up-and-coming hip-hop starlet who falls in love with the cop who rescued her from her own suicide attempt.

What's Great About This Movie: Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I mean, don't get me wrong, Gina Prince-Bythewood's writing and direction are surprisingly subtle and relaxed for the bulk of the film, the story avoids the camp it so desperately courts from its description, and I'd be shocked if less than half the women in my theater walked out not at least a little bit in love with leading man Nate Parker. But, seriously, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is luminous, a powerful young actress who is an absolute joy to watch here, and if she's not a huge superstar in 5 years, Hollywood will have fucked up. Besides that, again, Beyond the Lights is just well written and gorgeously directed. If the pabulum spewed forth by Nicholas Sparks has put you off romance, Prince-Bythewood has a powerful corrective.

What's Not-So-Great About This Movie: There's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen before, just new faces on the old tropes; 'beautiful people fall beautifully in love' is a story most of us can recite verbatim. And while Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, pop star Noni, is powerfully constructed, male lead Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) is a little more square. Not as dull as, say, the romantic interest in 2014's standout romcom, Gillian Robespierre's otherwise-excellent Obvious Child, but he still suffers from Perfect Leading Man syndrome.

Final Verdict: Beyond the Lights is a must-see... for viewers who have been missing big screen romance. While I would comfortably recommend it for most audiences (and, indeed, am doing so right now), I suspect most people could wait until it hits Red Box or your local library without feeling like they missed too much. Still, for that small audience who, like me, lists things like Brief Encounter or In The Mood For Love among their all-time favorite films, this is one you probably won't want to miss in theaters.

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