The Sun is Also a Star (2019) Review
A CHEESY, SILLY, AND PRETENTIOUS
CONTEMPORARY TEEN DRAMA
In the literary world, the ever-shifting interest of teens novels has been in constant flux; passing from one popular trend to the next. The age of paranormal romance of vampires, werewolves, and demon hunters dominated the mainstream media interest of YA / Teen genre for several years, ushering a plethora of writers and novel, with some literary works being adapted into feature films, including the Twilight Saga (2009-2012) and The Mortal Instrument: City of Bones (2013). Within time, the fascination of the paranormal love interest passed into sci-fi dystopian tales, seeing the rising interest of tyrannical governments and youthful teens rebellions (and love interest) within adolescent readers. Like before, many novels were released on carrying that mantra and that were adapted to the silver screen, including The Hunger Games saga (2012-2015), The Divergent Series (2014-2016), and the Maze Runner trilogy (2014-2018). However, the interest of dystopian narratives has started to fade and being replaced with more real-life fictional stories of young love, drama heartache, and teen tragedy; a combination of drama tales with a splash of rom-com flavoring. Cinematic features like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018), Everything, Eveything (2017), Love, Simon (2018), Five Feet Apart (2019), and After (2019) have all been adapted from novels (most of which from the YA / Teen genre) and have proven to work within its parameters and interest; generating relatively successful box office numbers on a rather modest film budget. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and director Ry Russo-Young presents the latest Teen rom-com motion picture with the film The Sun is Also a Star, a teen romance novel by author Nicola Yoon. Does this movie find it “young love” romance or does is it just another “run-of-the-mill” teen melodrama that panders to its demographic target?
In New York City, Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi) is a young adult who believes in science and facts and not so much in the belief of fate, or destiny, or even the idea of fanciful dreams that will never come true. She’s not even the type of teenage girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded street and falls deeply in love with him. To her…. that only happens in the movies. In reality, Natasha faces hardship when her family is twelve hours away from being deported back to Jamaica; leaving the life she has known for the past nine years. Elsewhere, Daniel Bae (Charles Melton) has always been the good son as well as the good student, living up to his parents’ high expectations. And yet, never followed his passion of become a poet or a dreamer, with his future set to begin as a doctor with an interview for a recommendation to Dartmouth. By chance encounter, both Natasha and Daniel accidentally meet on the streets of New York. Enchanted by girl, Daniel pursue Natasha, believing in the rephrase “Deus Ex Machina” and that their sudden and unexpected meeting was meant to be. However, Natasha doesn’t believe in “chance” or in “fated love”, with her mind slightly preoccupied for a hope that her family’s deportation can be reversed. Thus, despite that, Daniel invites Natasha spend some time with him, promising to make a believer out of her and in the power of love. Over the course of one day, the pair connect and overcome personal obstacles; sharing their lives with each other and discovering the universal human emotion of love…. even if it’s only for a single moment.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working in the bookstore retail realm for more than decade, I’ve seen plenty of “rises and falls” of popular interest within the many genres within the literary world…. especially in the YA / teen section. Of course, the paranormal romance was the really big one, with Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight Saga being the chief catalyst for popular mainstream appeal, which (of course) fueled the interest of Hollywood turning Meyer’s novel into feature films. Next, the sci-fi dystopian tales took center stage; finding Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, Veronica Roth’s Divergent Series, and James Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy becoming the main staples for the subject material. Naturally, Hollywood quickly took interest and churned out their cinematic adventure of each of these series…most of which I liked (love The Hunger Games saga and the Maze Runner trilogy) and some not so much (The Divergent Series started strong, but ended on a whimper…. or rather ending on the penultimate installment). After those polar opposites of thematic storytelling settings, I find it interesting the popular interest with YA / Teen readers have shifted to a more “plausible” and “grounded” teen drama tales, with most replicating a sort of rom-com feeling of youths falling love. As the films mentioned above, it shows that Hollywood still takes a keen interest in what is current / popular teen literary novels and (like the book industry) isn’t stopping anytime soon. Personally, I do like some one of these teen rom-com movies, but some do offer stereotypical narrations (i.e. what Hollywood deems as teen love stories) much like Netflix’s The Last Summer (a 2019 film of which I just recently reviewed).
The Sun is Also a Star is the latest “page to screen” project from Hollywood; adapting the story from the novel of the same name by author Nicola Yoon. For those who don’t know, Yoon’s first novel titled Everything, Everything was adapted as a film in 2017, with The Sun is Also a Star acting as her second novel as well as her second movie adaptation (that’s quite impressive…if you think about it). Anyway, I remember when Yoon’s sophomore novel came out a few years back and I remember seeing the book “flying” off the shelves by its readers. I also remember reading the back cover, but (to me) it was something that felt like its story / premise had been done before in similar teen fiction / romance novels. So, I was not really interested in reading Yoon’s novel, but (despite my opinion) the book kept on selling and did become a modest best-selling hit. This, along with the 2017’s adaptation Everything, Everything, was probably the reason why The Sun is Also a Star was being produced as theatrical motion picture. While I was familiar with the book (by its cover and back-cover premise), I really didn’t hear much “buzz” about this movie, with teen rom-com movies (most of which are based on popular bestsellers) are becoming a dime a dozen. Still, I do remember seeing the film’s movie trailer a few times at the movies and it somewhat intrigued. Of course, it looked exactly what I would expect from a teen rom-com feature, but I have some hope that the movie could possibly be good, which did elevate my curiosity slightly into purchasing a ticket to see during its opening weekend. What did I think of it? Well, despite having its romantic heart in the right place, The Sun is Also a Star is a teen melodrama dud that feels too pretentious and too derivate to the stand on its own cinematic merits. Young love is the name of the game, but gets lost within its cringeworthy dialogue and cliched storytelling beats.
Before I go any further, I must mention (again) that I didn’t read Yoon’s novel…. only the back-cover synopsis. Thus, my opinions and critiques on The Sun is Also a Star (the film) are strictly gonna be about the movie and not on anything that was added, removed, or altered from Yoon’s original story.
The Sun is Also a Star is directed by Ry Russo-Young, whose previous directorial works include such films like Orphans, Nobody Walks, and Before I Fall. As a whole, Russo-Young approaches this movie by examining the different lives of the two main protagonist, keeping the film squarely focused on the narrative of Natasha and Daniel throughout the movie. Of course, the movie is steeped in teen melodrama (young love, a vague rebellious attitude your parental figures, and a playground of various areas to explore as their relationship ensues. Russo-Young seems to embrace that idea, using the city landscape as a playground and using Yoon’s story as a centerpiece for a young romance premise; showcasing the ecstasy and agony of being caught up a situation like this (i.e. falling in love within the course of a day). It’s a bit surreal, but viewer’s who love eat up stories like these will find the rare charm within the tale being told in this feature. Russo-Young also embraces the whole “cosmic” approach by having Natasha reinforce that idea throughout the story and presenting a more scientific understanding of a human’s life (no matter how short in the vast expansiveness of the universe) and the meaning of love (no matter how long). Speaking of love, Russo-Young makes the story revolve around that notion; making love (the idea of it and the emotion attraction of it) as universal as human life…. something that which anyone (regardless of gender or race) can appreciate. As a side-note, Russo-Young uses a more realistic camerawork approach in the movie, showcasing a lot of close ups in its characters. It’s not really something new exactly, but it definitely helps pick up facial expression in way that works for the film’s story.
The film’s screenplay, which was penned by Tracy Oliver, keeps the story on a short leash, never wandering into side stories that don’t have an impact on the main narrative at hand (i.e Natasha and Daniel). This is sort of good since Russo-Young keeps the camera focused on those two characters and never veers off into unnecessary side-roads. Still, the narrative script handling could’ve have been “beefed” up more so than a streamlined iteration, but I’ll delve into more of that a few paragraphs below. What’s probably more interesting is that the story has a more contemporary feel to it by setting the movie in a big urban metropolis city as well as making the two main leads as immigrants individuals as opposed to the more commonplace setting of native US citizens of suburbia (you know what I mean). What’s most compelling is the whole deportation of Natasha’s family, with the young teenager girl refusing to give hope on trying to save her family and life she has here. Likewise, Daniel’s story is interesting; following the a more practical aspect of either following a path already set or going out (into the world) and making one for yourself. In addition, the third act twist that happens in the movie sort of threw a curveball into the narrative, which I kind of really liked. Of course, I knew that was probably from Yoon’s novel (and not so much from Oliver), but I sort of wasn’t expecting for that particular situation (you’ll know when it happens) to play out that way.
In terms of presentation, The Sun is Also a Star looks and feel pretty good. Again, these types of movie endeavors never really go “above and beyond” the industry standards of a feature film, but this particular movie does certain look pleasing to the eye. Much like Netflix’s 2019 movie The Last Summer (another YA / Teen romance feature that deals with young adults falling in love), the movie utilizes the cityscape of major US city for the main characters to bounce around and interact as setting. Thus, the New York City landscape (several iconic places included) are on display for the film’s characters to running around, with the film capturing the essence of modern / contemporary inner-city life. So, the production designs and set locations are something worthy mentioning as well as the cinematography work by Autumn Durald, which provides some slick and creative usage of camera angles and lightning effects throughout. Additionally, while the film’s score, which was composed by Herdís Stefánsdóttir, is serviceably good for the movie by hitting all the right moments (melodically speaking of course) for the film, the movie also has a good selection of contemporary songs that play throughout the movie. It’s not super palpable, but the selection of songs does sort of “shake up” the more commonplace choices of songs that usually accompany teen movies out there.
Unfortunately, The Sun is Also a Star comes up empty-handed with its storytelling, despite being genuinely sincere when considering matters of the heart within young individuals: resulting in a rather predicable, boring, and syrupy teen love story. Why do this movie fail? Well, for starters the story (though touching) feels very unrealistic. As I pointed out above, the tale of two people meeting and falling in love with one another over the course of one day is not unheard of and can be somewhat practically, but seems a like a rare type of chance meeting and ultimate human interaction to say “I love you”. This, of course, is the story’s main premise and (to me) just comes off as too unrealistic to even buy into…even for a syrupy teen cinematic endeavor. How they actually fall in love is also pretty lame and (again) feels like a bit too fictional for being a more grounded real-life take on the narrative. This is mostly due to how the feature flows, which follows a formulaic pattern of our two main characters having a moment together, followed by a triumph / setback (from the present events or from their families), and then a montage scene of young couple acting romantic and cute, and then it all repeats all over again.
The script also drives home (quite literally) the idealism viewpoints of a falling in love (i.e. scientific reasonings vs. emotional connections), but those particular viewpoints have already been examined, discussed, and presented in other similar rom-coms of two people, who suddenly fall in love with each other. Again, love is universal, but The Sun is Also a Star does little to value those viewpoints beyond progression the narrative forward. Thus, the end result of the story being told in film is rendered rather dull and with a impractical story progression that play out in a manufactured way that make main characters Natasha and Daniel fall in love with each other far from perfect…almost like a daytime soap opera drama.
Coinciding with that, Young (as well as Oliver) makes the feature follow the YA / Teen formula to a fault; making the film feels extremely predicable from start to finish. As you know, the movie’s source material comes from that particular genre, which makes the affinity attraction all the more justly reasoning for the narrative story being told. That being said, the movie really doesn’t bring anything new or original to the genre platform of YA / Teen motion pictures. Basically, everything about the film just screams generic and / or of a derivative nature that’s plague the entire genre for quite some time. Some might argue that those are the main staples of a YA / Teen romance products (be it books or films), but some of those aspects need some type of creative influence to make them feel more different and genuine rather than what Hollywood considers teen portrayal. In addition, the movie plays up the stereotypical trouble scenarios for the characters to overcome (i.e. brotherly issues, parental issues and expectations, the big “interview”, etc.). It’s all well and good, but Young / Oliver hardly make those common clichés their own; resulting in those problematic areas for Natasha and Daniel feel bland and generic. Speaking of clichés, the movie is riddled with them, especially in the cringe-worthy story and dialogue (more on that below) that come off as terrible to eye-rolling inducing. Even the ending feels like a bit contrive and predictable ends up being rather “blah” rather than heartwarmingly satisfying.
Another contributing factor to my criticism about this movie is the simple fact is all very rushed. I know that the movie has a restrictive time limit (the movie has a runtime of only 100 minutes), but everything in the story feels rushed and ends up scatting by everything, including poignant moments that affect characters and / or the budding romances of Natasha and Daniel. What’s even worse (adding more insult to injury) is the movie’s script handling of the feature’s dialogue. What do I mean? Well, the dialogue in the film is quite terrible and so riddled with cheesy lines that are quite cringe-worthy. Of course, some of the cheesy lines are a somewhat necessity, but majority of them are just badly written…. plain and simple. In addition, the film’s attempt at humor falls flat and ends up being a joke unto itself
The cast in The Sun is Also a Star is rathe small, but is lead by a young talent pair that ultimately acts as the centerpiece / main focal point of the feature. Naturally, I’m talking about actress Yara Shahidi (Black–ish and Alex Cross) and Charles Melton (Riverdale and American Horror Story), who play main characters Natasha Kingsley and Daniel Bae. These two are the primary focus on the movie and do lend credence to the ultimate shaping of the narrative, following the angst, pitfalls and overall romance between these two. What also helps that both Shahidi and Melton have a good on-screen chemistry with each other. It’s not the absolute best, but it definitely works and its clear to see that they had a good time with each other. The problem about these two is the simple fact that I really didn’t care about the characters of Natasha and Daniel. The character inner workings for Natasha and Daniel are simplistic and almost cookie cutter caricatures of the YA / Teen genre. There are a few differences that set them apart from the commonplace archetype young adolescent characters, but it’s really hard to care about their respective characters, despite the acting talents behind them. However, those cheesy dialogue lines that mentioned earlier come into play here, with these characters spouting out lines that come off as eye-rolling (again, Hollywood’s portrayal of young love). To me, I blame the shaping of the dialogue for the film’s script. In the end, both Shahidi and Melton give what they can in the movie, but the film never fully makes “buy into” their characters of Natasha and Daniel upon their initial setup and storyboard premise…. which is really disappointing.
With the movie focusing primarily on the characters of Natasha and Daniel, The Sun is Also a Star doesn’t really make time for any supporting players (be it large or small). Of course, there are some, but don’t amount to much. The only really seasoned acting veteran of the feature is actor John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!), who plays the minor character role of Jeremy Martinez, a lawyer who Natasha desperately wants to look over he family’s immigration case. In truth, Leguizamo’s performance in the film is probably the best, but his character role is minimal, which is disappointing. The rest of the cast, including actor Camrus Johnson (The Cobblestone Corridor and Safe Spaces), actor Gbenga Akinnagbe (Edge of Darkness and The Taking of Pelham 123) as Natasha’s father Samuel Kingsley, actress Miriam A. Hyman (Blue Bloods and The Rookie) as Natasha’s mother Patricia Kingsley, actor Jake Choi (Single Parents and Steel Wull: Cyber Ninja) as Daniel’s brother Charlie Bae, actor Keong Sim (Olympus Has Fallen and Glee) and actress Cathy Shim (True Colors and Oishi: Demon Hunter) as Daniel’s parents, Dae Hyun Bae and Min Soo Bae, are just very minor characters that really don’t amount to anything (character-wise) beyond adding comfort / trouble for the movie’s two main characters. The acting talents of these individuals are fine, but never really leave a lasting impact on the feature nor on the story, especially considering most of these characters offer plight / conflict within the lives of our two star-crossed lovers.
Love is a universe all of its own and it takes only a single day to experience it in the movie The Sun is Also a Star. Director Ry Russo-Young latest feature takes a stab at the YA / Teen romance genre, offering up a universal story of love and dealing with a contemporary setting of change and tradition. Unfortunately, while the intent of love and romance is there, the movie fails to be anything but a mushy and cringe-inducing YA / Teen romance tale that feels too forced, too, derivate, and too riddled with bad clichés and terrible dialogue lines. Personally, I thought that the movie was boring. It definitely had its moments of being sincere as well as being an unapologetic “swoonworthy” romance tale of young love, but the whole pretentious cheesy feel took me out of the experience and just ended up being a drudge to watch. Thus, my recommendation for this movie would be “skip it” as there’s not much to it and ends up being a hollow teen drama. Of course, fans of YA / Teen melodrama features would probably be interested in this, but there are far better projects that cover the tragedy heartache of young love (both grounded in reality and / or fantastical in fictional tales) for a viewer’s entertainment. In the end, while the thought (and heart) are definitely in the right place, The Sun is Also a Star never reaches for the stars and settles for a more cheesy and forgetful remembrance; favoring for Earthly mediocrity silliness than aspiring to the starry heavens above.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: May 17th, 2019
Reviewed On: May 19th, 2019
The Sun is Also a Star is 100 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language