“Beyond the Lights” is a drama that examines a famous singer from two different angles. On the surface, this is a love story between a singer and the police officer who saved her life. Beneath the surface, we find a much darker tale of a girl who is forced to mask her true self in order to achieve fame and her struggle to take charge of her life again. It sounds cheesy (and is a little bit) but this drama sends a strong message about being yourself and nobody else. It features a diverse performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw as she expresses several different facets of her character. She successfully portrays vulnerability and a confident façade at the same time. Her inner transformation is directly linked to the change of her physical appearance as she tried to find herself. Mbatha-Raw’s impressive performance is offset by Nate Parker as he looks like he is in a constant state of confusion. I wasn’t buying his character and feel that a different casting choice could have improved the film. Minnie Driver pours her maximum effort into each scene. She plays the role as well as it can be played and has a chance to show some intense emotions, but I don’t know if the part was written well enough to accomplish everything that she hoped. It’s worth noting that Danny Glover is in this film, but probably as a favor to someone since the role doesn’t offer him much screen time. The music in the film represents several different genres from rap and hip hop to blues. I appreciate the importance of Nina Simone throughout the film as her outspokenness becomes symbolic of Noni’s struggle to find her own voice and use it. “Beyond the Lights” isn’t going to blow your mind but the performance of Mbatha-Raw is a hidden gem and worth seeing just for her transformation.
[Pictured: The film strikes an interesting balance of Mbatha-Raw putting on an amazing performance while Parker looks confused.]