At face value, you are supposed to watch a film with a tabula rasa, or a clean slate, unless, of course, it's a sequel. Of course, we don't live in vacuums and sometimes it is impossible not to let the outside world seep in. If you don't believe me, try to go back and watch a Kevin Spacey film without thinking about the recent allegations against him.
To a lesser extent, I found it hard to watch Azealia Banks play basically herself as an aspiring rapper without thinking of the bizarre oddities in her personal life since this film was completed. I can't say that I am the biggest fan of hers, but I do recall that she had gotten into several Twitter feuds and something about blood and feathers in her closet. So, it was difficult to watch Love Beats Rhymes without thinking about her personal backstory and yet, her performance in the film is such that her character Coco comes off as warm and enduring.
So, that's what I would call a massive acting win.
In Love Beats Rhymes, Banks' character, Coco is an aspiring rapper who is at a crossroads in her career. Her mother insists that she return and finish college where she takes a poetry class that challenges everything that she supposedly knows about hip hop and rap. The story is pretty predictable from there, but that's not the real story of the film.
No, the real story of this film is the amazing performance turned in by Azealia Banks given her quirky persona in the real world. This is a case where the inability to separate the actress from her performance actually results in a role that transcends the convention of the genre.
By all measurements, the weakest link of the film is the screenplay which is riddled with clichÃ© and predictable turns that sink lesser performances. Sophomore director RZA is able to turn his experience as an actor and founding member of Wu-Tang Clan to craft a film that is at times more poignant than it has any right to be.
RZA's debut directorial effort was a martial arts film, so this complete 180 with Love Beats Rhymes was a red flag that the film might suffer, but quite the contrary, he may have been the perfect choice to rein in Ms. Banks. In the confrontational scenes between Coco and her poetry professor, the interactions take on the added weight of someone who has blazed the very trails that they are quibbling over.
Beyond Azealia Banks, RZA taps several friends for cameos such as Common and Method Man that not only lend credence to the scenes, but gives the audience a reminder of the stakes at play. By the time the story meanders to a close, the audience is ready to cheer on Coco and, by extension, Azealia Banks in all of her future endeavors.
I, for one, am intrigued for what the future holds for Ms. Banks in the acting world and the next project that RZA develops. The story of hip hop is being told by those that put it on the map and just like Eminem and 8 Mile, there's an enormous amount of weight that their real-world struggles carry. These are the films that will best tell this pivotal moment in our culture and while I'm sure they will continue to make films long after these taste-makers have moved on, they will inherently be missing soemthing.
Love Beats Rhymes is now available on DVD.