‘The Sun is Also a Star’ barely flickers
Directed by: Ry Russo-Young
Written by: Tracy Oliver based on Nicola Yoon’s novel
Starring: Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton
“The Sun Is Also a Star” – “It’s fate.” – Daniel Bae (Charles Melton)
Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi) stands in the middle of Grand Central Station and looks up at its celestial ceiling. Daniel (Melton) notices Natasha and sees stars too. For Daniel, it’s love at first sight or at least serious interest at first sight. Natasha is wearing a blue polyester jacket, one that sports the phrase “Deus Ex Machina”, and divine intervention strikes him. He decides to follow her to say, “Hello,” in-person. For the sake of argument, let’s not call it stalking, but by definition (“pursue or approach stealthily”, “track down”, “go after”, “give chase to”, etc.), he is.
He does, however, carry noble, idealistic intentions, not crooked ones. Daniel, an early 20-something poet, is a romantic, and upon meeting Natasha, a high school senior, he discovers that she is a pragmatist. They have opposite mindsets, and this would instantly be a matching-problem in real life, but stark differences between boy and girl are a necessary ingredient for almost every rom-com since the beginning of motion pictures. No, there is no eHarmony prerequisite before on-screen romance begins in “The Sun is Also a Star”. Instead, it simply is: boy sees girl, boy pursues girl, girl gives boy a healthy dose of reality, but boy attempts to convince girl to fall in love with him anyway.
We know this story.
Well, the young adult novel “The Sun Is Also a Star” topped The New York Times Best Seller list, so a worldwide audience already knows this particular yarn, and director Ry Russo-Young tries to bring Nicola Yoon’s novel to life on the big screen. While Russo-Young, Melton and Shahidi show good intentions to tell a tale of young love through a chance encounter (which Daniel believes is no coincidence), the picture unfortunately dulls the senses and riddles with clichés.
The narrative could seem bright and brand new to an average 13-year-old, but it’s as two-dimensional and tired as a Hallmark card penned by a checked-out writer who gave up coffee for Lent.
“I’m not a dream,” Daniel says.
Natasha, however, might feel that she’s hallucinating, as Daniel constantly pines for her through sappy, guileless passages from his head in the hopes that she falls for him within a day. In return, she retorts with rational reasons for not falling in love during such a short window, and more importantly, repeatedly states that she doesn’t have time for him today. Rather than dive into any sort of depth, the script sits and sits and sits within a narrow band of please vs. no, thank you and this is planned vs. this is coincidence, until Natasha finally shows some predictable, ho-hum cracks in her emotional armor.
On the plus side, Daniel and Natasha are very likable, Russo-Young places our champions in New York City, and the film is a love letter to The Big Apple. Since Daniel and Natasha are New Yorkers, they don’t sightsee (except for a casual stroll through the Rose Center for Earth and Space), but converse with pizzerias, delis, jewelry stores, and multicultural foot traffic in every direction. (Although, Russo-Young could have cut the number of skyscraper drone shots from six thousand to six.)
Since they only have a day (for reasons that are not stated in this review) and also wander around one city, the film feels very, very similar to “Before Sunrise”, except in the 1995 modern-day classic, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) share vitally important elements like chemistry and humor. Except for one moving montage at a karaoke spot and another 12 seconds at a revolving glass door, “The Sun Is Also a Star” is remarkably void of both romance and joy.
As Daniel states, “Always remember to open up your heart to destiny.”
This critic tried.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.