I made a return visit to the garishly Disney World – esque AMC Fairlane Cinema (photo at right) this evening. Though this cinema is a relatively close neighbor to me in my present living situation, this was only my second time there. Their admission price of $7.25 seemed like a throwback to another era, although the average priced concessions made up for the initial cheapness.
The interior of the cinema offers a familiar design seen in many turn-of-the-millenium era Loews Theatres, which I know well from early visits to the Boston Common cinema, and I’m sure can be seen at other venues across the country. However, it doesn’t seem to have aged badly, and this particular complex has been well maintained.
This evening’s feature of choice was Beyond the Lights, a current release focusing on the story of Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a British R&B/urban singer and clear Rhianna/Katy Perry/insert your pop star here composite, who has found fame in her provocateur act and lives the high life in Los Angeles, but yearns to drop it all and go back to her more humane self. She faces conflicting guidance from an overbearing mother (Minnie Driver) and decides that she wants to get to know a noble police officer (Nate Parker) who came to her aid at a particularly challenging moment. Simultaneous to her challenges, her intense stardom tugs at her window and makes her struggle to decide which way she wants to take her life.
The film puts a pragmatic and realistic spin on a familiar story, and is really a showcase for a dynamic and revelatory performance by Mbatha-Raw (pictured at left), an actress who proved she was a talent to watch in Belle earlier this year – though I would have enjoyed seeing her Ophelia opposite Jude Law’s Hamlet a few years back on London and New York stages. She carries the film and does all of her own singing with charisma and smoldering heat through most of her scenes, creating a fully rounded character out of what could have just been a caricature. It was good to see Driver back on screen in a primary role; it feels like it has been several years since I’ve seen her in any widely released movie, though I understand she has been busy with television work. Veteran actor Danny Glover, whom I once met briefly in Massachusetts and have a 1 degree connection to in the Bay Area, appears in a supporting role as Parker’s father, and his familiar gravelly voice and committed screen presence were also a welcome sight.
I can’t recommend the film with super-enthusiasm due to its formulaic plot, but think it is worth seeking out at some point for its committed performances and the important fact that it’s made by a female filmmaker, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who knows how to tell a detailed and relatable story.