CAN YOU SEE ME? Mbatha-Raw as singing sensation Noni Jean, with Parker as Officer Kaz Nicol.
Early in the immensely likeable romantic drama Beyond the Lights, there's a car scene where the young cop Kaz (played by The Secret Life of Bees' Nate Parker) takes off his jacket and drapes it around the shoulders of his soon-to-be girlfriend Noni (the superb newcomer Gugu Mbatha-Raw). It is not just a thoughtful and protective gesture; it grants us a peek into the rapidly developing bond between two people who were meant to save each other.
For what it's worth, Beyond the Lights is much more than a love story centred on two people whose paths cross under less-than-ideal circumstances, fall hard for each other, and witness their young lives forever transformed. At the core of this beautifully layered, terrifically acted film, penned and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), lurks the Dilemma of the Modern Superstar, specifically the behind-the-scenes drama young female rising stars encounter and the omnipresent danger of losing their true selves in a world of record labels, power struggles and mind games.
Mere hours after winning a prestigious award and blazing the stage much to the delight of her legions of fans, Noni (music's latest sensation) — the talented girl with Brixton roots who seems to have it all — is found perched on the balcony of her luxury hotel suite until cop Kaz (short for Kazam) rescues her, setting the course for a series of events that irreversibly alters both of their lives.
As for the film's supporting cast, there's much to applaud. Minnie Driver (Phantom of the Opera) plays to a tee the plum role of Noni's seriously hands-on mom-ager; indie film sensation Darryl Stephens is her stylist Quentin; with the characteristically sturdy Danny Glover portraying the world-weary police captain and Kaz's father.
Besides the lingering and emotionally precise performances she draws from her actors, Prince-Bythewood's real triumph here is the very real and much-welcome dive into the inner workings of the multi-billion-dollar music biz and the dynamic if complicated lives of its most prominent stars. In the case of Noni and Kaz, we not only see a beautiful, soulful portrait of transformational love among the ruins, coupled with the price of fame, but the timeless import of staying true to who we really are at heart. Tyrone's Verdict: B+