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How had i never seen... Enter the Dragon

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« Deadpool lands on huge pile of money. Makes crude jokes about paper cuts, probably. | Main | BAFTA Winners Announced »
Sunday
Feb142016

Valentine's - Beyond the Lights

The Film Experience is celebrating Valentine's Day! Here's Daniel...

Rarely does a film show the restorative power of love like Gina Prince-Bythewood’s alive and swoony Beyond the Lights. While the film has much more on its mind than hooking up – from reconciling depression to machinating local politics – its undeniable electricity sparks from the mindmeld that allows each of its two leads to be seen for the first time and fly in whichever direction they choose.

Prefabricated pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, flawless) literally lives in chains, bound between the blinding glare of paparazzi flashbulbs and a suffocating armada of handlers that exploit her image in the name of the game. Kaz (Sundance darling Nate Parker) is a cop on her detail living under the blue-and-red burden of prefixed expectations. He grabs her hand after she jumps off a hotel balcony. There’s no meet cute here; it’s a spiritual lifting.

By the time they escape to Mexico in the second act, it’s a soul-clearing breath of fresh air. Gone are the crushing schedules and growing media and familial firestorms around their relationship – here, it’s breezy, freeform, and awash in the possibility of pure sunlight. And, thankfully for the audience, they spend much of their time in and around bed.

This dreamy Baja sequence envelops you in a warm embrace, starting wide and hugging closer to Noni and Kaz. As a prelude to some truly sensational sex, they shake out the sheets together, making up the bed – their cloud in the sun above the ashes they've left behind. Fighting pillows give chase to trading tongues and they sensually sweep away all structure and sense of time. Each cut reveals a different position, literally and figuratively, that flows into the next as they build each other up and clutch each other's bare skin for dear life.

What makes this sexiest – apart from two gorgeous people worshipping each other – is consent. Compared to the world’s sex object expectations and a previous scene of onstage sexual abuse, Noni pursuing her own desire instead of bowing down to leering masses is nothing short of freedom. As Kaz sleeps, she takes a knife to the purple weave of her producers and cuts out their influence. She steps out, no longer resembling an infantilized product but an independent woman with the newfound power to run her own world. And she’s seen.

Our Valentine's Series
A Room With a View (1986)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
Before Sunset (2004)
The Painted Veil (2006)
Love Songs (2007)
(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Beyond the Lights (2014)

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Reader Comments (10)

This was my bronze medalist for love scenes last year so naturally i approve. They're so fine together these two.

February 14, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I bought this one last week (sadly from a bargain bin) and look forward to watching it. I was so happy to hear about Nate Parker's new project, and I want to watch Gugu in everything she's in. Now if only the director doesn't have to wait years to make another movie.

Did you read what Gina Prince-Bythewood said about Netflix? That you couldn't find Beyond The Lights in the romantic section. It could only be found in the African-American section with all the action movies? And it was never a suggestion in the "you might like..". Very frustrating.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenteradri

I need to take a look at this because when it first came out, it seemed generic as hell but there are all these lovely reviews about it.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

Loved this movie when I saw it but then I was discussing it with a friend and she pointed out how the optics of the movie are basically Tyler Perry morals. Self-righteous black man saves black woman from herself and her career (he knows best, of course).

It would've been way, way more compelling if it's just the mother/daughter relationship and them trying to navigate the music industry. That opening scene at the hair salon is such an honest moment to me.

But y'all right - they were fine as fuck to watch.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

I really liked the film, but I wasn't a fan of Nate Parker in it. I, too, wished it was more a mother-daughter film than a romance. But Gugu was revelatory regardless.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Not a huge fan of the movie but damn Gugu is so hot in this

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

@Derreck I was unsure about the film because on paper it's pure soap opera but it won me over. Thanks to Prince-Bythewood's deft, honest hand the end result is quite lovely. That's not to say the plot isn't predictable (it is) and Parker's character feels too good to be true, but there were real flashes of truth in it too and it tried to go beyond cliches. I also felt like I was watching characters we rarely get to see on screen, which was exciting. BTL actually reminded me of 2001's Crazy/Beautiful. Not sure anyone else remembers that film!

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermsd

msd *raises hand* loved that film at the time. should probably rematch. One of Dunst's best performances.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh yay. I haven't seen it in donkey's years but I thought of c/b when I saw BtL. A rich, spoiled, but troubled young woman in LA redeemed by the love a good man who challenges her. They had a similar tone for me, with both directors taking simple almost cliched stories and imbuing them with something beyond the usual glossiness.

February 15, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermsd

Update! Saw the film. Nicely done but it gets a little unbelievable in the last 20 minutes. I still don't really get the friction at the end of the Mexico retreat.

I know Noni's Blackbird is supposed to be the big song but I'm totally a bigger fan of the ratchet ass opening song, Masterpiece.

February 17, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

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