The Sun is Also a Star is based on a YA novel by Nicola Yoon, whose Everything, Everything was recently made into a feature film starring Amandla Stenberg, who starred in the superior The Hate U Give, and Nick Robinson, who was in Love, Simon. That film was not very good, and it gave its talented performers something of a launch pad for projects that would turn out to be a lot better. We can only hope the same is true for this film’s leads.
Natasha (Yara Shahidi) is a young quantum physics student. She and her family have lived in New York for the past nine years, and they are facing deportation back to their native Jamaica, but this home has been all Natasha has ever known. Daniel (Charles Melton) comes from a Korean immigrant family that just wants him to go to Dartmouth and become a doctor, and all he wants out of life is to become a poet and fall in love. They cross paths one fateful day, as he tries to prove he can make her fall in love with him in only a day.
Structurally, this film owes a massive debt to Richard Linklater’s Before… series. The idea of these star-crossed lovers – she’s rational and science-minded, and he’s romantic and has his head in the clouds. This film is caught up in their intensifying romance and why they can’t be together, but they must, but really, should they? It all has been done better in other films that clearly inspired it. At specific points in this story, we really do buy this relationship, and what it might be like if it were able to blossom and become more than it is, but unfortunately it never quite gets there, and this film paints the two as truly bland and insufferable people.
Shahidi and Melton are both very appealing and talented performers, and they have sufficient chemistry to take this story the distance, but their characters are both thoroughly unlikable. They’re painted, of course, as the polar opposite star-crossed lovers that fall irrevocably for one another, but this script sacks them with some of the corniest and most unconvincing romantic dialogue, that it becomes impossible to take their romance seriously.
This reminds me of one of the worst films of last year, Life Itself, a similar movie where characters talk to each other in a way people never talk to each other in real life. She’s a scientist, and she talks like a stuck-up intellectual who thinks she’s smarter than she really is, constantly rambling about data and figures. He’s a romantic, and he’s continually quoting poetry like he’s the first person who has ever seen these words printed before. It’s true these characters are teenagers, and everything small that happens in life is magnified when you’re young, but that’s no excuse for lazy writing.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young, who made the far superior YA adaptation Before I Fall a few years ago, this film does create a dreamlike New York that proves an ideal backdrop for these characters’ romance. The camerawork also depicts the sensation of feeling utterly alone in a crowded city, and while it may be so easy to fall in love, it’s even quicker when you’re snapped back to sober, unforgiving reality. The script by Tracy Oliver is probably not to blame for this film’s dependence on clichés and romantic tropes. I haven’t read the book, and perhaps it has a lot more of actual meaning to say about the topics explored in this story. However, having seen Everything, Everything, also based on a Nicola Yoon novel, I wouldn’t bet on it.
The Sun is Also a Star is profoundly disappointing. I expected more from this one because it looked like a subversive YA romance that could explore topical issues. This film wants to say something meaningful about what it’s like to be an immigrant in America in 2019, but it also wants to be the swoony, wildly melodramatic romance where the viewer can throw all logic out the window, and it can’t have both. Leaning hard into the melodrama, it becomes a lesser story as a result. And it has a final scene that completely ruins everything that came before it, and strips the story of any deeper meaning.