Monday, 22 December 2014

REVIEW - BEYOND THE LIGHTS (GINA PRINCE-BYTHEWOOD)


There must be stronger scenarios on which to construct an honest, probing examination of female pleasure, of its origins, its qualities and the freedom that it can engender. Gina Prince-Bythewood's melodramatic music industry set-up is pure hokum - its aspirations are so noble that it can't even admit to its own hysteria - but it's an entertaining set-up, and a more fertile one than it appears on paper. Prince-Bythewood hits all the correct targets, if one conducts the simple task of examining what's driving her narrative, rather than just succumbing to its dramatic appeal, and supplies us handsomely with the aforementioned honesty and probing. She is attuned, most specifically, to the experiences of womanhood under duress, in periods of change and distress. Beyond the Lights offers a fascinating (although uniformly underdeveloped) array of intimate relationships - professional, personal, romantic, familial - and posits that only truth and love are capable of cleansing one's relationships of their harmful effects, or of purging one's life of those relationships altogether. See what I meant about hokum? It's easily digestible stuff, actually, only I wish it weren't so: cumulatively, all that Prince-Bythewood assembles in creating a vivid, thorough persona for her leading lady often feels defined by its position within her high-camp scenario, and it's wholly possible to interpret Beyond the Lights as no more than a throwaway glitzy romance. Any interpretation could identify the gauche inaccuracy with which the contemporary pop music industry is depicted; equally, any could identify the dazzling charisma of Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the lead role, and the vibrancy of Minnie Driver as her mother. Both actors hit a perfectly sweet spot between the complexities of the parts they could be playing and the sentimentality of the scenario those parts have been set within.