You know what’s stronger than melodrama? The truth.
“Beyond the Lights” is the story of a rising superstar of pop music Noni, who is having trouble coping with her fame and the pressure of those around her until an encounter with a local cop may save more than just her life. It’s a modern tale of what it’s like to be in the spotlight and how love might just be able to conquer the ambition and compromise that lurks around every corner. Now if that sounds like a typical cheesy, over the top, melodramatic love story, well I thought the same thing, but there may just be a pretty powerful little movie hiding underneath here.
Right from the start I was drawn into this movie by what felt like extremely confident and well placed direction and camera work. There is nothing flashy about the way this movie is presented, but you can tell right at the get go that whoever is putting this together is doing it with purpose and I like that. The result is that the movie really does feel like it earns any emotional beats that come along with real character development and a world around them that feels genuine and authentic. Which by the way, is not an easy thing to do, when most of your movie takes place in the glitz and glamour of the modern music industry. And yet even though you know none of these artists actually exist, it feels like a legitimate insight to where pop music celebrity is today, and doesn’t distract from the story. Speaking of which, there is a really beautiful message here about pressuring the ones we love, and putting on masks, as well as the hurt that comes with compromising who we really are. Again, all things that could sound cliche if not handled with such an authentic touch. There’s some really moving stuff here, including a moment where this music superstar strips herself of her image completely and presents her true self for the first time. It’s an almost shocking reminder of where true beauty comes from and I found it genuinely compelling.
What I didn’t find quite as compelling was the love story. I mean, I get it, I understand the role it plays in both the growth of the characters and in the presentation of the story, but those moments for me are when the melodrama really began to rear it’s ugly head. It’s like the movie clicks into soft focus, a smooth R&B track comes on, and we are whisked away into some overly sentimental version of this relationship. Ironic, considering the themes of the film itself. But the worst part is that it keeps this couple and the movie itself from finding any kind of sense of humor, which can make the whole thing feel a bit too heavy and self serious.
At the end of the day, Beyond the Lights is a more powerful movie than you might expect. It’s authentic and genuinely moving moments are enough to offset the overall melodramatic feel and allow it to exit the stage with a solid B-.