A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beyond the Lights is a poignant romantic drama with timely themes about the hyper-sexualization of young female performers, the artificiality and greed of the music industry, and the lack of compassion for celebrities who are treated like public commodities. The movie also explores the importance of dealing with mental illness, the sometimes toxic relationship between young celebrities and their controlling parents, and the power of finding your own voice -- literally and figuratively. There's occasional strong language ("s--t," "a--hole," and one "f--k") and a few steamy sex scenes that show bare backs and legs, plus a publicly violent encounter between the main character and her rap-star ex-boyfriend. But the movie offers parents an ideal opportunity to talk to teens about pop culture, sex, and the difference between someone who loves you for who you are and someone who's just a fair-weather hanger-on.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When BEYOND THE LIGHTS opens, English single mother Macy (Minnie Driver) desperately asks a black stylist to help her style her biracial daughter Noni's textured hair in time for a talent show. The talented, bespectacled tween blows the judges away with her poignant performance of Nina Simone's "Blackbird," but she's named runner up. Fast forward a decade, and grown-up Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has transformed into an ultra sexy, Rihanna-Beyonce-Ciara-like singer about to drop her first album. Despite winning an award for her collaboration with boyfriend/rap star Kid Culprit, Noni jumps off her hotel balcony -- only to be saved by Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker), who's assigned to her security detail. Thanks to the paparazzi, Noni claims she'd had too much to drink, and Kaz is branded a hero, but he knows the truth, and the two can't stop thinking about each other. As Noni and Kaz -- who has political ambitions -- fall quickly in love, both must make critical decisions about their future.
Is it any good?
As romantic melodramas go, this one is rather substantive. Writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood wowed audiences in 2000 with her critically acclaimed debut, Love and Basketball, and then, eight years later, she earnestly adapted The Secret Life of Bees. Now she's back with another romantic drama about a young woman finding her voice -- except this time it's actually about a singer. It took Prince-Bythewood nearly a decade to get the film made because she wanted to cast Mbatha-Raw long before her star-turning role in Belle. The result is an earnest labor of love that captures the pitfalls of fame, the problems with hyper-sexualizing young performers, and the transformative power of finding someone who really sees you -- not just your persona.
Mbatha-Raw is pitch-perfect playing a rising star who wants not just fame but the possibility of artistic expression. Parker is also wonderful as a swoon-worthy man who's both sensitive and ultra-masculine. Their chemistry is impressively sizzling but also quite sweet as they encourage each other to do what's in their heart, not just what their parents and other advisers expect. The film boasts laudable performances, relevant issues, and a cautionary tale that's worth it for teens and parents to process. If young audiences realize why it meant more to Noni to sing "Blackbird" than a catchy, innuendo-filled tune, the movie has done its job.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Beyond the Lights depicts the music industry. Do you agree that young performers are forced to be extremely sexual? Why is their sexiness a bigger selling point than their talent? Is it just the music industry that does this, or other areas of media/pop culture as well?
Is Noni and Macy's relationship believable? Which reality shows depict "show moms" who seem to care just as much about their kids' careers as the kids themselves? Does Macy redeem herself by the end of the movie?
How are Noni's two romantic relationships portrayed? Which one is healthier, and why? Do you think the love scenes were handled appropriately for teen audiences? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
- In theaters: November 14, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 24, 2015
- Cast: Minnie Driver, Danny Glover, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
- Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
- Studio: Relativity Media
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexual content including suggestive gestures, partial nudity, language and thematic elements
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