The first thing any film needs is a good script. In the case of “The Sun Is Also a Star,” it needs a good script that’s been adapted from its source material - the absurdly coincidence-heavy 2016 YA novel by Nicola Yoon. This script is poorly structured and ignores much of the book’s drama, but is riddled with many of its clichés.
Then you need good actors. Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton, both accomplished TV actors, playing Natasha and Daniel, two teens struggling with what they think is love, show limited ranges here, regularly re-using the same sets of smiles and frowns and other related reactions.
And chemistry. If you don’t have great chemistry between the leads in a love story ... So, how much chemistry’s there between Natasha and Daniel? A song from Elvis Costello’s first album comes to mind: “Less Than Zero.”
Let’s not forget the director, the person whose vision is on display. Ry Russo-Young is best known for her 2017 film “Before I Fall,” which is best known for borrowing heavily from “Groundhog Day.” This time she seems to believe that people saying dialogue on-camera is of less importance than stuffing the film with filler, ranging from narrated flashbacks (with old photos) from each of the protagonists about their families to extended montage sequences of the two lovebirds roaming through New York City to a backdrop of unmemorable pop music.
The plot? Natasha and Daniel and their families live in and around New York City, but they don’t know each other. They meet when he catches a glimpse of her, follows her (no, he’s not a stalker, he’s just gob-smacked by what he sees), and saves her life when she steps off a curb without looking either left or right. Now that is what you call meeting cute!
Cue the opposites attract plot device. She believes in science. He believes in poetry. She doesn’t believe in love. The only thing he believes in is love.
Daniel: “I can get you to fall in love with me in one day.”
Natasha: “I’ll give you one hour.”
OK. Game on. But because everything so far is so formulaic, all there is to do is speculate when either Natasha or Daniel will start to show early signs of some terminal disease. But, no, wonder of wonders, everyone in the film remains healthy. The problem is a political issue. Daniel and his South Korean family are apparently long-established U.S. citizens (though that’s never discussed in any detail). Natasha and her Jamaican family are undocumented immigrants ... who have been found out ... who have been ordered to go back home ... tomorrow!
Before almost being hit by a car, Natasha was on her way to one more last-ditch effort appointment to prevent the deportation. Before saving her, Daniel was on his way to an admissions interview for Dartmouth College, even though he’d be happier as a poor poet than as the rich doctor his father wants him to be.
He saves her, they have coffee, they chat, she doesn’t tell him anything about her family problems, she says to him how nice it was to meet - buh-bye - he predicts that they’ll see each other again. The end. Yeah, right.
Destiny, or something like it, comes knocking, and 10 long minutes later, they do see each other again. There are more flashbacks, more montages, and an extended scene in a norebang - a private Korean karaoke space, with room for just two, where Daniel breaks into a listless rendition of Tommy James’ 1969 hit “Crimson and Clover.” But never fear, Tommy James fans, the soundtrack segues into the real song as the film devolves into a sappy fantasy sequence about Natasha and Daniel’s future life.
All is well, till she comes to her senses, spills the beans about the immigration authorities, and runs away. No, wait ... another flashback and another montage is all it takes for them to be in each other’s arms again! There’s nothing in this film that even hints at emotional reality. And when it all comes to a thudding finish and fades to black, three words flash up on the screen: “Five Years Later.” The resulting groan you heard the other night was probably mine.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Sun Is Also A Star”
Written by Tracy Oliver; directed by Ry Russo-Young
With Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo