Netflix beauty captures singer on the brink of success

Jhere are a million ways to tell even very old stories. Beauty, directed by Andrew Dosunmu and written by Lena Waithe, classically themed riffs, the idea of ​​a gifted artist torn between her career and her family, jostling to find a balance between her own ambition and the demands of the most closer to her. A scheming parent who sees his offspring as a big dollar sign, a cunning manager who tries to force budding talent into the most lucrative mold, a lover who doesn’t fit easily into the plan of fame and fortune: Beauty has it all, including an attractive young star, Gracie Marie Bradley, as the film’s title beauty, a woman who is naively sure of her destiny despite all the forces holding her back.

Still Beauty— set in the 1980s and bearing more than a passing resemblance to the real-life Whitney Houston story — never quite freezes. The opening of the film introduces us to Beauty and describes the dynamics of her family: her father (Giancarlo Esposito) is bossy and verbally abusive towards his two brothers, but adores her, even if his love for her comes with certain expectations and of a price. Her mother (Niecy Nash) is a gifted performer who has spent her life singing, never daring to achieve stardom herself. She knows how extraordinarily talented her daughter is and tries to guide her properly, even if her envy sometimes blurs the message. She and Beauty’s dad have had some serious disagreements about the badass manager (Sharon Stone) looking to sign Beauty as a client: Beauty’s dad is all for it, but her mom is hesitant, fearing that her daughter would be destroyed by the system, and by fame.

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There’s another complication: Beauty is deeply in love with Jas (Aleyse Shannon), and the two want to build a life together. But Beauty’s father hates Jas and sees her as an obstacle to Beauty’s success. Meanwhile, Jas tries to get Beauty to think on her own, urging her to get a lawyer before signing a contract, which only fuels her father’s anger.

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Through it all, the beauty is something of a ghost, a point repeated over and over again by Dosunmu, who offers us many, many shots of the beauty watching recorded performances by her idols – including Mahalia Jackson and Ella Fitzgerald – as we see her delighted but somehow featureless face reflected in the glass of the television tube. This is a device with a capital D, a style choice that is felt by heart. We never hear Beauty sing, another stylistic choice but one that makes sense: At one point, Beauty’s brassy director, as described by Stone, urges her to sing “Over the Rainbow” in her first appearance. on TV for fun. white audience. She also urges Beauty to keep her relationship with Jas in the background, seeing it as a major stumbling block on Beauty’s road to stardom.

The thing is, for most of those around her, except Jas, Beauty is more of a vessel than an actual person, an idea that’s poignant if you know anything about Houston’s history and how her life has been orchestrated by those around him, to the detriment of his own happiness. But Waithe and Dosunmu, the filmmaker behind the 2013 independent film George’s mother, a beautifully crafted drama about infertility – flirting with tense dramatic developments to ignore without exploring. It is often difficult to tell exactly what is happening in a scene and why; some characters behave in a way that suits the plot but doesn’t quite make sense. Dosunmu favors oblique camera angles and blurry views, again, perhaps, to emulate Beauty’s blemished sense of herself as a person. But Beauty ends before he’s really dug anything of importance. Her heroine, who is known to be headed for trouble, finds herself stuck in the middle of her own story. When she opens her mouth to sing, no sound comes out and she is stuck in this cycle of no voice for eternity.

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