Netflix’s ‘Beats’ hits a few interesting notes in a familiar song

The specter of death looms large over Netflixs Beats. Maybe looms isnt the right word, because death is really like a supporting character in the film.

For August, a teenager with a gift for music, death is by his side at all times, in the form of his dead sister, Kari, who was shot dead for no reason in front of him. Eighteen months later and grief has turned August into a recluse. Just the thought of going outside induces panic attacks. Its the most interesting aspect of Beats, but its married to a story that too often settles for predictable, uncompelling drama. Beats is just good enough to be a little disappointing and to make you wish it were better.

Beats

RELEASE DATE: 6/19/2019

DIRECTOR: Chris Robinson

STREAMING: Netflix

After the death of his sister, August falls into depression and becomes a recluse, with music as his only way to express his emotions.

The tricky thing about Beats is that its best aspects dont line up enough and it leaves the film muddled. On one hand, the storys strengths come from burrowing into Augusts grief and watching him pick himself up. But newcomer Khalil Everages performance isnt quite up to the task. Everage has his moments, like his emotional breakdown in the films climax. But there are too many moments where it feels like Augusts emotions aren’t syncing with what Everage is doing.

On the other hand, the films best performance is tied to maybe its most cliched character. Anthony Anderson plays Romelo, a once successful manager who is now disgraced and working as a security guard at Augusts high school. When Ro learns about Augusts musical talent, he sees an opportunity to get back to the top of the music scene. From the awkward friendship between Ro and August to Ros rocky marriage to Ros past mistakes in the music game, every beat of August and Ros arc is predictable.

Beats is at its most affecting when it lets its characters stew in their feelings. Its much less successful when trying to push the plot forward. A subplot that follows Augusts baby steps into a romance feels out of place as if the script (credited to Miles Orion Feldsott) features these moments because a romance is expected. Thats the same feeling I get from Augusts scenes with his old music partners. Those are stories that could work in a different version of Beats, just not the one we get. Id much rather spend more time watching August talk to his dead sister, something the film does with success.

Amid all of the familiar aspects, Beats is juuuuuust good enough to recommend. It plays a familiar tune that is agreeable, and wont challenge you too much. But, like its main character, Beats is at its best when it steps out of its comfort zone.

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