Unless you are interested in the compromises made by artists who seek fame in the music industry, “Beyond the Lights” is a movie of negligible appeal. Objectively, it is little more than a backstage soap opera, but this particular backstage soap opera has an certain outspokenness that is commendable in this self-congratulatory age. it plays like a dramatization of Lauryn Hill’s brave MTV Unplugged album, in which she publically renounced a career that had demeaned her integrity, not only as an artist, but as a human being.
Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, who has enjoyed only a spottily career in the 14 years since her acclaimed :”Love and Basketball” (a situation common to minority film-makers), gave her all in the researching and writing of this story. The excellent British actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who has wasted far too many years in the television wasteland, is an enthusiastic accomplice. Together they bring to life, not only the Lauryn Hill story, but expose the sordid career elements that are common to other performers from Nelly Furtado to Rihanna.
Even the hokiest elements, namely Minnie Driver’s overdone caricature of the showbiz mom, rings true enough to offset a mad attempt by Driver to outdo Rosalind Russell’s do-or-die domination of Natalie Wood’s “Gypsy.”And Mbatha-Raw is so good at balancing the innocence and ambition of neo-soul singer Noni that she comes across as still vulnerable even in her most sociopathic moments.
If you are susceptible to movies in which an almost supernatural belief in oneself is all it takes to bring down an establishment out to bring about your ruin, the upbeat climax is liable to leave a lump in your throat. It did mine.