Pretty but empty headed is the most apt way to describe The Sun Is Also a Star. The movie looks great, much more sprawling than a movie about two people jawing about love and fate should be but what they yak about is shallow. Possibly the they are supposed to be representative of youthful earnestness but the movie ends up being a mopey drag about two dopey teens complaining that life is hard. Considering how this is set over a long day as two people talk about love makes this feels like it is supposed to be the Millennial answer to the Generation X walking and talking romantic classic Before Sunrise. But The Sun Is Also a Star falls way short compared to that milestone. Also the title The Sun Is Also a Star is wordy and terrible and when that line is wedged into the film itself, it just kind of awkwardly hangs there.
With her family scheduled to be deported back to Jamaica tomorrow, young Natasha (Yara Shahidi) takes to the streets of New York. Also stumbling around New York is Daniel (Charles Melton) who is supposed to go for an interview to learn to be a doctor. This will make his overbearing parents happy which gets a snarky attitude from his no good brother, Charlie (Jake Choi). But Daniel really wants to do is be a poet because he’s full of feelings. After Daniel randomly saves Natasha’s life from oncoming traffic, which is as good a meet story cute as any, he says he can make her fall in love in a day. Considering Natasha has to meet with an immigration activist, Jeremey (John Leguizamo) she doesn’t really have the time, but Daniel is determined to prove that love is real.
Kind of a big problem is that the main characters come off as constantly complaining. Which, yes, is a symptom of teenagers throughout history but annoyingly the film is frames everything the characters say as truth and the world is uncaring. When an immigration administrator, quite correctly, says that her being sent back to Jamaica is nowhere near as bad as people being sent back to war torn countries, he’s presented as unsympathetic. Compared to the life-threatening problems other people are facing, her situation comes off as pointless.
There are a lot of random montages which give it some visual peppiness but they feel like they’re there to pad out the running time. Natasha contemplating what it means to be an American leads to a rapid montage that is visually stimulating but superfluous. The movie is full voice over narration that is probably a symptom of it being based on a young adult romance novel. Daniel’s narration about why his parents named him is a detail that would fill out a few pages in a novel but feels like a pointless aside here. Sometimes the random montage scenes do work really well, like when Natasha and Daniel are in a Karaoke bar and he sings “Crimson and Clover”. He sings rather badly and off key yet extremely emotionally, which leads into a fantasy montage of them living a life together. It’s a surprisingly moving bit which is probably because “Crimson and Clover” is such a great song so it’s hard to fumble.
The direction by Ry Russo–Young has visual flair. The film is fairly darn colourful with sweeping steady shots of the urban environments and handheld camera during some intense emotional scenes. Although there is a shot of the two staring off amazed by art which is just ripped off from an iconic moment when the teens are staring at art in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Probably the best directed moment in Sun is one of final shots that plays out in a single take showing the two characters unknowingly mere feet away from each other that is really compelling. Although sometimes the direction may be trying too hard to make a small character piece seem big like a moment when Daniel saves Natasha from a fleeing car is shot with such slow-motion drama it’s as if the filmmakers are auditioning to make a Marvel movie.
The two leads are fine, putting in performances that make the annoyingly written characters seem slightly less annoying. Melton has some very charming moments as the two talk about love but him wanting to live the life of an artist while his overbearing parents gripe at him to go be a doctor is an eye rolling cliché. The character of Natasha is harder to relate to because she is so much of a contrarian which gets irritating. Daniel tells her love is real so naturally she has an instant, overtly wordy rebuttal. Playing an elder activist statesman Leguizamo puts in some interesting spins on dull dialogue. As the surly brother, Choi’s Charlie is a bad boy cliché who gets into a fist fight with his brother probably because he’s a bad boy cliché.
The Sun Is Also a Star is not a great romance movie as it’s a bit too self-important to stick. There are small moments of levity and humour that deflate the serious tone but not enough. The emotion of love may have a lasting, lifelong impact but this movie certainly doesn’t. V
THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR
Director: Ry Russo-Young
Starring: Yara Shahidi,
Charles Melton and Keong Sim