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Beyond the Lights

A show-biz melodrama that tries to put a positive spin on its familiar plot

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Beyond the lights film

Rising hip-hop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is trapped in a blinged-out prison of cheap celebrity, housed there by her hyper-aggressive stage mom (Minnie Driver). Then, some melodramatic circumstances put Noni in the arms (literally) of a sensitive Los Angeles policeman, Kaz (Nate Parker). And surprise: With Kaz, Noni can let her weave down, and just be herself — somebody who would rather croon Nina Simone songs than show up at another awards show in a metal thong.

Look, you've seen this film a thousand times before, but if you like these backstage romances, you could do worse. Gina Prince-Bythewood's film is tripping over a lot of tropes, but it's also consciously trying to be positive about self-determination, the presentation of women in media and what extra challenges people of color face in the public sphere. (Kaz is angling to go into politics.) Needless to say, the leads are easy on the eyes, and the good musical numbers balance out the (intentionally) horrifying ones.

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