Beyond the Lights is one of the better surprises to come out of 2014 with a compelling, if not formulaic melodramatic, story that is highlighted by a breakout performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who hopefully finds more lead roles beyond television. The Blu-ray released by Fox includes a decent amount of bonus material and fantastic video/audio transfers.
Beyond the Lights
Genre(s): Drama, Romance, Music
Fox | PG13/Unrated – 117 min. – $39.99 | February 24, 2015
THE MOVIE – 3.75/5
It’s not often in my line of work (such as it is) that a movie surprises you the romantic melodrama Beyond the Lights really impressed me though it’s not without its faults. At its core there’s a positive message.
From an early age, Noni Jean (GUGU MBATHA-RAW) has been pushed by her overbearing mother (MINNIE DRIVER) to strive to be the best and now is on the verge of stardom. Alongside boyfriend and rapper Kid Culprit (COLSON BAKER aka Machine Gun Kelly), she has a few hit songs and is set to drop her debut album in the matter of weeks.
After taking home an award at the Billboard Awards, she’s over the edge off of her hotel balcony ready to end it all when Officer Kaz Nicol (NATE PARKER), who was posted as security outside her door, intervenes and rescues her. The media is all over the story but Kaz is ordered by his police captain father David Nicol (DANNY GLOVER) to go along with the lie that it was an accident. Noni seems to be fine now but she finds an instant connection with Kaz and soon the couple begins hanging out much to the displeasure of both Noni’s mother and Kaz’s father.
Noni isn’t the only one under pressure as Kaz is being primed for political ambitions, specifically running for a council seat and in doing so, needs to garner support from a variety of groups including preachers and any relationship with the oversexed Noni would interfere with those plans, albeit plans pushed by his father.
From here Beyond the Lights does go into the formulaic route but that’s not necessary a bad thing. Written (as well as directed) by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who received critical acclaim for 2000’s Love & Basketball has been in kind of a holding pattern dabbling in television before only her second theatrically released feature The Secret Life of Bees in 2008. Now six years later, she might not have hit a homerun but a sold double in what could’ve been 100-minutes of clichés.
Outside of the fine writing and dialogue from Ms. Prince-Bythewood, the biggest reason Beyond the Lights succeeds is from a standout and (hopefully) star-making performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw who just does an amazing job with her character, a not so vague reference to Rihanna (IMO), down to the abusive boyfriend. Mbatha-Raw isn’t exactly new to the scene appearing on “Touch,” “Undercovers,” and even “Doctor Who” as well as appearing with Tom Hanks in 2011’s Larry Crowne.
The other cast members hold their own well enough. I did like Nate Parker, who most recently had a significant role in 2014’s Non-Stop, has some good chemistry opposite Mbatha-Raw and Minnie Driver, who I can’t believe is old enough to be the mother of a teenager, has some good moments, seeing a woman who will anything for a kid but in spite of the inflicted psychological damage, something more and more prevalent today, so there’s more than a little truth to her character. It’s also nice to see Danny Glover again and rapper Colson “MGK” Baker serves as a d-bag du jour for the film.
Although Beyond the Lights is not perfect, it is still very entertaining with some catchy songs, and one that mocks today’s pop/R&B/Top 100 market so fantastically well; and should note, Gugu doesn’t have a bad voice. In the end, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this at the very least as a rental.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 2.5/5
This release comes with a matted slip cover. Inside is a redemption code for the Digital Copy (Theatrical Version only).
Audio Commentary features Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Cinematographer Tami Reiker and Editor Terilyn Shropshire.
Director’s Cut (1:16:31; HD) – This version is an astonishing 16 second difference from the theatrical version. According to the commentary, the cuts involved the airplane and BET Awards scenes. Minor cuts but ones made to avoid an R rating.
Deleted Scenes (6:05; HD) – We get five scenes that were removed and although nice, nothing noteworthy. They are accompanied with optional commentary.
Escape to Mexico 2.0 (1:53; HD) is some bonus footage set against a soulful song.
Changing the Conversation (4:58; HD) looks at the origin of the movie, its setbacks and contains interviews with the cast and crew.
Music Video (3:24; HD) – The video for “Masterpiece.” sung by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni and Machine Gun Kelly as Kid Culprit, is featured in its entirety.
Gary Theard: Boom Man (4:28) is a profile on the late Theard (passed away January 2014).
Theatrical Trailer (1:46; HD)
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Beyond the Lights takes the stage courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presented with an opened matted 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer (MPEG-4 AVC codec). The film looks quite good with sharp detail, a fine balance of colors and darker scenes show no signs of aliasing or artifacts. It’s a good transfer that might not quite be reference quality but still admirable.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track meanwhile really impresses. First, the dialogue levels sound crisp and clean as does Mark Isham’s score, but where this lossless track really takes off is with the R&B and Dance songs, switching on the LFE channel which goes into overdrive providing excellent depth while the songs themselves come through each channel with amazing clarity.
OVERALL – 3.75/5
Overall, Beyond the Lights is one of the better surprises to come out of 2014 with a compelling, if not formulaic melodramatic, story that is highlighted by a breakout performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who hopefully finds more lead roles beyond television. The Blu-ray released by Fox includes a decent amount of bonus material (the best being a commentary track and a set of deleted scenes) and fantastic video/audio transfers.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2. Please note, these do contain spoilers.