Sun is also a Star, The (United States, 2019)

May 17, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Sun is also a Star, The Poster

Two strangers meet and spend a day wandering around a city – talking, exchanging meaningful looks, and enjoying being with each other as they see the sights and fall in love. Later that night, they cuddle together in a park under the stars and fall asleep in each other’s arms, only to awaken to a new morning. Their time together, however, is limited. The same fate that brought them together forces them apart, resulting in tearful goodbyes and the promise (but no more than that) of a future re-connection. This is the story of The Sun is also a Star, Ry Russo-Young’s movie adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s YA novel. It is also the story of Richard Linklater’s beloved 1995 romantic drama Before Sunrise. Comparing the two properties’ approaches to the same basic material is a study in style, mood, and how respect for an audience’s intelligence impacts directorial choices.

Before Sunrise is a great movie. The Sun is also a Star isn’t. It’s not horrible and it may please its target audience but it misses an opportunity to have a deeper and less surgically-targeted impact than what it achieves. The movie shouldn’t just work for those who have read Yoon’s novel and/or girls age 12-17. Watching The Sun is also a Star, I was constantly aware that Before Sunrise wasn’t its only influence. There’s also more than a little Nicholas Sparks in the mix and that curdles even some of the best parts of what turns out to be an uneven motion picture.

For Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), it’s not a good day. After spending the last nine years – the bulk of her adolescence – in New York City, she is headed to Jamaica. Her family (all members living illegally in the United States) has been deported. Their flight leaves in 24 hours. Her last-ditch attempt to stay involves meeting activist immigration lawyer Jeremy Martinez (John Leguizamo), who offers her a sliver of hope. Her bad day is prevented from getting worse when she is saved from being run down by a car by quick-acting Daniel Bae (Charles Melton), who shoves her out of the way in the nick of time. The meet-awkward becomes a meet-cute and the two start hanging out as they wander the streets of New York. Uptown, downtown they go, falling in love as they stroll from the Hayden Planetarium to Harlem. Daniel claims that, if she gives him 24 hours, he can make her fall in love with him. Natasha counters that she doesn’t have 24 hours and, even if she did, she doesn’t believe in love. He’s a romantic – a potential pre-med student who wants to blow off his Dartmouth interview and become a poet. She’s a pragmatist who loves astronomy and science and doesn’t believe anything she can’t measure.

Natasha wears a jacket bearing the motto “Deus Ex Machina,” one of several ways the film attempts to deflect potential criticism associated with the overuse of coincidence in its narrative. The other is to harp on the concept of fate, which sounds more like a crutch than anything else. There is a significant suspension of disbelief hurdle to clamber over in The Sun is also a Star and the screenplay isn’t always adept at helping viewers to vault it. Philosophical and scientific ideas, ranging from a person’s relative insignificance in the history of the universe to the existential possibility of infinite lives in an infinite multiverse, are littered throughout but none are explored in depth and they feel like decorations. The movie has a tendency to obscure dialogue with songs, depriving viewers of opportunities to hear the characters interact. Far more appealing, I suppose, to watch their faces while listening to some banal tune than listen to them debate the meaning of life. The level of melodrama doesn’t quite reach that of Everything, Everything, another movie based on a Yoon book, but there are times when it comes close.

The Sun is also a Star doesn’t hide its political agenda, making it a key aspect of the story. As presented from the perspective of a girl who nominally fits the definition of a “dreamer,” Natasha’s deportation to a country she hardly remembers and doesn’t consider “home” represents a tragic and unfair turn of events. In order for the film to work on any level, one has to sympathize with the filmmakers’ advocation of her plight. This may be a bridge too far for some viewers.

Love stories can be treacherous for filmmakers because their success relies heavily on a peculiar alchemy that not even the most meticulous casting and writing can craft. In many ways, this film’s saving grace lies in the talent of the performers and the spark that arcs between them. Yara Shahidi (a TV fixture for most of this decade) and Charles Melton (Reggie in Riverdale) exhibit the kind of natural charisma no amount of training can produce. They’re adept at breaking down audience cynicism and getting us to hope they experience their own Before Sunset moment.

It’s often the case when a movie co-opts an existing premise that those unaware of the earlier iteration are more likely to embrace the new story than those who have seen the inspiration. Few members of The Sun is also a Star’s target audience will have seen Before Sunrise; without any point of comparison, this movie might ratchet up a few notches. Although devoid of sophistication and overly dependent on contrivance, the frothy, fizzy giddiness of the love story may win over viewers who are predisposed to enjoy this sort of entertainment.

Sun is also a Star, The (United States, 2019)

Director: Ry Russo-Young
Cast: Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo
Home Release Date: 2019-08-20
Screenplay: Tracy Oliver, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon
Cinematography: Autumn Durald
Music: Herdis Stefansdottir
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2019-05-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: Drama/Romance
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1