Monday, December 22, 2014

Beyond The Lights

I'll take "movies we're not in the demographic to see for $500, Alex".

The Homesman, a Western with Tommy Lee Jones, was playing and seemed like a promising candidate for a weeknight show, but it had this high critic/low audience split and was described as something like "a feminist rebuke of Westerns".


But there was this other movie, about a black singer whose rise to fame is accompanied by a suicide attempt, from which she is rescued by a cop, and the ensuing love story. This is something I'd say couldn't possibly be good—or at least of no interest to The Boy and I—but it had a high 90s from critics and audiences alike (at the time; currently it's down to mid 80s), so off we went.

And it's good! Not only is it good, we really liked it.

It's also very sweet, and almost quaint at times, in its portrayal of the girl-who-just-wants-to-sing and the boy-who-wants-to-change-the-community. Naturally, the critics have to ding it as "formulaic", but even so it got through to their coal black hearts. I don't know: I haven't seen it in a while, maybe since Judy Garland days. Or maybe that's just the last time I saw a memorable form of it.

Gina Prince-Bythwood (Love and Baskteball) wrote and directed and manages to grab you from the opening scene. I'm not even sure how it works, exactly. You have a shrewish Minnie Driver (looking great, I might add) doing a classic stage mom thing, both putting her daughter at the center of her world and forcing her into a mold for success. (Gypsy, much?) And the recipient of this energy is a young Noni (played heart-breakingly by newcomer India Jean-Jacques).

Next thing you know it, young Noni is all grown up and played by the gorgeous Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Odd Thomas, Belle), about to break out after playing second fiddle to the greasy rapper Kid Screwdriver (or whatever, played by Machine Gun Kelly), her beautiful voice hidden behind a bunch of autotuned crap in a crappy hip hop piece of crap.

Along comes the Denzel-esque Nate Parker (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Non-Stop) to save her life and her soul, with about two hours of romantic drama ups and downs.

The acting is solid, and the direction sure, but formula or no, if this sort of thing is easy to do, I sure don't see it being done well very often. I think part of this is that the recent mainstream romances I've seen have taken romcom pandering to the nth degree, being nearly unwatchable for men. Hell, I'm still scarred from The Notebook.

Part of what sustains it is that the characters are strong and likable. Even if their aspirations are beyond what most of us have, you can relate to it. You can see where the conflicts between will arise.

I don't know: Like I said, I'm gunshy on female-oriented movies these days. It's almost like they set out to alienate males.

So, even though this takes nearly two hours, there's only a slight lull near the end of the third act, but even this pays off well. I got genuinely choked up at the beginning of the movie, and at the end.

The only really tired cliché, I thought, was the whole "struggle against your parents to find your own identity" thing. It's central to the story here and not just an easy punt for "how do we give this the feels" (as The Boy would put it).

Anyway, we both liked it and were very pleasantly surprised. It hasn't done gangbusters at the box office, though. Go figger.

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