This film by writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball) would be a run-of-the-mill romantic drama if not for the terrific performance of its star Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
She plays Noni, a beautiful R&B singer on the brink of stardom. She enjoys the perks of the trade, but is beaten down by the other junk that surrounds the lifestyle. The film starts out with a cute little girl with glasses singing Nina Simone's "Blackbird" at a talent show. She comes in second place after its clear from some of the other talent showcased that she should have won. Her pushy mother Macy Jean (Minnie Driver - she's great as the stage mother) storms out of the place, dragging her daughter behind her. She makes Noni smash the little trophy to the ground and admonishes that second place is not winning! We get a glimpse of what life with Macy Jean will be like.
The story picks up with Noni, now a beautiful, talented singer, on the brink of stardom. She does what is expected of a super star-in-the-making. She writhes on the stage in skimpy costumes, dances provocatively with male rappers, sings other people's songs, and smiles through her sadness.
After feeling exploited by her boyfriend, her manager/mother, her boyfriend and the music industry, she climbs up on her hotel room balcony ledge. She's saved by Kaz (Nate Parker), a Los Angeles police office working her security detail. Their romance that follows is sweet and natural.
Kaz is being groomed for local politics by his Police Captain father (Danny Glover), and this level headed, respectful man is just what Noni needs. They sneak off to an island where no one knows who Noni is. They do everyday things that people do, and they fall in love.
Mbatha-Raw shows a wide range of emotions, and her large eyes reflect everything she's feeling. Her character is talented, vulnerable and ultimately very strong. It's not a very flattering view of the music business, but by some of the headlines, we know its all true.