Beyond the Lights Parent Review
The script on its own is adequate, but the performances by Driver, Mbatha-Raw and Parker raise this film to a new level.
Macy Jean’s (Minnie Driver) desire to get out of the slums where she lived is understandable. Pregnant at 17, abandoned by her boyfriend, facing the disapproval of her parents, she didn’t have a bright future. Luckily for her, her child Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was born with an incredible set of vocal cords.
Macy Jean begins entering Noni in talent shows at a young age, but she viciously refuses to let her keep any award that isn’t a first place. But the time the movie really starts, Noni is a young adult that doesn’t resemble her childhood self at all. Wearing extremely provocative outfits and purple hair extensions while performing sexually erotic dance moves in front of huge audiences, Noni appears to be at the peak of her career. Yet despite the record sales, the entertainment awards, the screaming fans and the big house, Macy Jean isn’t satisfied. With the same grim-faced determination that got them where they are, she continues to push her daughter for a solo record deal. In fact she pushes Noni so far that the girl eventually dangles herself over the railing of a hotel balcony 12 floors up.
Officer Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), who has been assigned security duty, manages to save Noni from her suicidal intents and in the process becomes the darling of the media. The event also sparks an often-turbulent relationship between the pair.
This fictional tale about emotional breakdowns and embittered family relationships is one we’ve seen played out time and time again in real life. However, while filmmakers could easily have opted for a story about the nasty stage mom and the self-centered singer, the story goes deeper into the characters’ motivations. It explores the brutal nature of the music business and challenging parent/child relationships. It also addresses the officer’s quandary when he is offered money to lie about what really happened on that balcony. The script on its own is adequate, but the performances by Driver, Mbatha-Raw and Parker raise this film to a new level, turning this story about everything that is wrong with the industry into a kind of cathartic experience for the characters who have to face their own fears and failures.
However, the film has some content issues for parents who might like to share this inspiring message with their teens. Most audience members will already know the music industry can be a gritty, grinding, half-naked business. And the moviemakers make sure we know how demanding it can be by showcasing overtly sexual dance moves (some of which are aggressive and abusive), scenes of partial nudity, along with strong sexual dialogue and song lyrics. While illegal drug use is surprisingly absent, alcohol makes a frequent appearance.
Pursuing your dream comes at a price in Beyond the Lights. Still, recognizing the real cost of fame might encourage aspiring performers to make sure they don’t lose themselves along the way while trying to achieve their ambitions.Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Minnie Driver, Nate Parker, Danny Glover. Running time: 116 minutes. Theatrical release November 14, 2014. Updated May 19, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Beyond the Lights here.
Beyond the Lights Parents Guide
Macy Jean wants to prove that she can make it in spite of what others think. How does she sacrifice her daughter in order to do that? Does she try to live vicariously through Noni or is she simply using her as a way to better their lives? Why is she unable to see that Noni is looking to her for protection—especially during events like the photo shoot?
After Kaz rescues Noni, he is approached by local politicians who want him to run for office. They say that politics need a star. Is this the best qualifications for a government official?
Unlike many movies that simply vilify a stage mom, how does this story portray Macy Jean? Who gives perspective to this mother’s past decisions? What other parents are portrayed in this movie? What are the hopes and dreams they have for their children? How do they attempt to help their children succeed?
Macy Jean tells Noni to stay away from social media. Do the mean comments addressed to Noni also impact the way she feels about herself?