This movie should have been a hit. Watching Beyond the Lights six months into 2015, there are so many easy parallels between its plot and real-life pop stars that it makes no sense that Beyond the Lights made only $14 million. It’s not hard to imagine a world where, if a major studio (read: not BET Films) had seen the potential and gotten key pop stars involved in the marketing, Beyond the Lights makes real money and gets involved in the awards conversation at the end of the year. As it was, though, Beyond the Lights came and went. And that’s a shame, because this is a great movie, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (the criminally underseen Love & Basketball) and starring two relative unknowns, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (last year’s Belle) and Nate Parker (best known for 2007’s The Great Debaters).
Mbatha-Raw plays Noni, a Rihanna-like pop star with immense talent, though she’s mainly used for her sex appeal by the industry as a whole, and even by her manager, Macy (an amazing Minnie Driver), who also happens to be her mother. One night after a particularly demeaning day, Noni attempts to jump off a balcony, but her life is saved by an ambitious young cop, Kaz (Parker). What follows might be predictable, but it’s also handled with a light, realistic touch by Prince-Bythewood and her impressive cast. As you fall in love with this timely story of the pop music machine and what it does to the women in the industry, try not to think of what might have been had the stars been white. I mean, Country Strong was an absolutely garbage heap of a movie, but it received actual marketing and made more money than Beyond the Lights ever had a chance at. So there’s that.
Quicker take: The studios could pretend they know what they’re doing every once in a while, and then maybe a great movie like Beyond the Light would have been a hit.