Title: Beyond the Lights
Released: 2014

Fix: Celebrity-Falls-In-Love-with-a-Normal Romantic Drama
Platform: Netflix

Netflix Summary:

Exhausted by the demands of the music business, a rising pop star tries to end her life but is saved by a police officer who later becomes her lover.

FYA Summary:

Noni Jean is poised to become the next big thing in music, but she can barely make it to the next day, thanks to the demands of superstardom. Kaz Nicol is a police officer with political ambitions who’s been assigned to Noni’s security detail on the fateful night of their meet-uncute à la Jack and Rose in Titanic. Which is to say, Kaz prevents Noni from going through with her suicide attempt. HEAVY, I know, and while the movie doesn’t sweep Noni’s pain aside to pave way for TEH KISSING, it isn’t a dour and somber affair, either. Also, there is TEH KISSING. 

Familiar Faces:

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni

How is Gugu Mbatha-Raw not yet queen and overlord of the world? She is dazzling and devastating in this, and that purple hair will tempt you to do something drastic with your own. (Speaking of hair, it’s actually a major part of the movie, so that’s amazing and awesome.) I haven’t seen much of Gugu’s filmography, but now I’m retroactively mourning the short-lived sexy spy couple show she starred in with Boris Kodjoe, which a lot of people (incl. I) didn’t watch, either. This is why we can’t have nice things. 

Minnie Driver as Macy

Holy shizz, Macy will take you on a ROLLERCOASTER OF EMOTIONS. Thanks to Kris Jenner, we’re all probably predisposed to dislike momagers like Macy — and trust, Macy will do PLENTY to fuel your ire. But she also loves her daughter deeply and will fight for Noni to get the recognition and opportunities that she deserves. Suffice to say, Macy is COMPLEX. (And before you question whether Minnie Driver could be the mother of a grown woman: not to Gugu, who’s only 13 years her junior, but a Teen Mom Minnie could have a 28-year-old child by now, WHAT.)

Nate Parker as Kaz

Kaz is like the perfect romantic hero: loving, responsible (seat belt safety!), and HOOOOOOOT. (There is a section of my notes that just says “ARMS”.) I also love that it’s the guy being the non-celeb (or non-vampire, or non-Special, etc.) and all “Why me?” for a change. [Edit 2021/12/14: Nate Parker, however, has a horrific history that I learned of after this writing and retroactively ruins any swoon.]

Danny Glover as David

ROGER MURTAUGH HIMSELF, Y’ALL. Even though he and Minnie never share a scene together (missed opportunity, although it makes sense that they don’t), both are parents with grand career aspirations for their kids.

Richard Colson Baker/Machine Gun Kelly as Kid Culprit

I am not particularly hip to the rap scene of today, so I had no idea this guy was a real rapper. (Which, in retrospect, makes sense, since his songs didn’t have as much of that made-for-a-movie quality.) Although my first impression of his character was a chorus of ewwws and yucks from his music video and his ever-classy parting request to Noni to “keep it tight for [him]”. 

Amar’e Stoudemire and Estelle as themselves

One of my favourite things in movies about fame is catching all the celeb cameos that are featured. Amar’e is one of the film’s producers (and an NBA player), so it’s no wonder that he made an appearance. In addition to being a singer, Estelle voices a character on Steven Universe and had a guest role in the first season of Empire. And apparently, Gayle King* is in this, too?! Although I completely missed it, so APOLOGIES TO OPRAH.

*The best part of Gayle’s IMDb bio: “Has the enviable distinction of being Oprah Winfrey’s closest friend”. It also namedrops O three times in four lines, because enviable distinction

Couch-Sharing Capability: High

This movie can be appreciated with or without company. I thought about advising against slumber party viewing because it really deserves full attention, but the romance between Noni and Kaz is total fire emoji, i.e., PERF for slumber party swooning. 

Recommended Level of Inebriation: Low to Medium

For a movie that’s actually good, quite a few things might drive you to drink. First and foremost, because of the sads for Noni, her constant objectification, and how little respect she’s given as an artist. Then there’s the music, which I cut some slack for, since creating original music to use in TV or movies is so tricky to get it sounding it like an actual hit and not with completely cheeseball lyrics.** Although the non-original songs are used wonderfully, like the era-establishing Jamiroquai (!!) during Noni’s childhood in Brixton, and the wallop that Noni’s cover of “Blackbird” packs.

Speaking of the music aspect: I know this isn’t supposed to be like a documentary level of authenticity, but the movie does some dumb stuff in the name of drama. Like performances for a major award show seemingly not having any rehearsals beforehand! (Noni gets filled in about a feature on her costume right before she goes on stage, and the performance itself gets way out of hand — and with no broadcasting time delay to the rescue?) And maybe Noni was making money elsewhere too, but between the lavish L.A. mansion and the private jets, it sure looked like she was burning through her $1 mil advance from her record label. OK, last thing, I swear — the last performance is SO FLIPPIN’ CHEESY. I wouldn’t go as far as it ruining the movie for me, but I was on the way to wholeheartedly loving it, but now I only enthusiastically recommend it. Look, I love cheese, which would be pretty clear to anyone familiar with my taste in Stream Its. But the rest of this movie is so not cheesy, and then the final performance happens. A huge part of it has to do with original music again, but also — Noni dives face down into a crowd, and OMG SO MANY HANDS who in their right mind does that?! 

Basically, I should just not think about the music in this movie at all. 

**Among my fave original songs: “That Thing You Do” (SORRY NOT SORRY, JENNIE); probs anything from Josie and the Pussycats because of Ben Wyatt fave, Kay Hanley; a few songs from Empire; 2gether’s “U + Me = Us (Calculus)”; the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”, which is insane because its comic book medium has no use for a full-length fake song. 

Use of Your Streaming Subscription: Very Good

That preceding rant aside, I really like this movie! The story itself is a bit predictable, but it has such nuanced and compelling relationships. And if that’s not enough, it’s written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, the same brilliance behind Love and Basketball (which I someday also need to write up, since “There needs to be more movies like Love and Basketball” is a frequently recurring thought of mine). 

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.