Beyond the Lights Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Beyoncé the Lights might be a more nonsensical title for writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s labor of love about a pop singer torn between love and fame, but it would imply more about the thinly conceived romantic drama. Beyond the Lights stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni, a superstar chanteuse who would rather be singing Nina Simone than the slickly produced material that calls for her to perform or pose in various states of undress. Her career has been controlled by her stereotypical stage mother (Minnie Driver) since day one, finally leading to a desperate act that causes Kaz (Nate Parker), the policeman guarding her hotel suite, to come to her physical rescue.
It soon becomes an emotional rescue as well, with Kaz becoming the one person Noni trusts. Kaz is being groomed for politics by his father (Danny Glover), who is happy with the notoriety resulting from Kaz’s association with Noni but doesn’t see her as a long-run political asset. That doesn’t stop Noni from abducting Kaz, or Kaz from whisking Noni away from the fame-whirl, but aside from two beautiful people discovering how nice they both are, there isn’t much going on here.
Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) harbored her story about a Beyoncé-/Rihanna-level star for years, but never seemed to develop it far beyond the premise. Themes of parental pressure, exploitation and the superficiality of hair extensions are introduced but barely explored. At least Mbatha-Raw’s casting changed Noni into a British character, giving the film one of its few departures from star-crossed-lovers clichédom.