The Sun Is Also a Star, 2019.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young.
Starring Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, Gbenga Akinnagbe, Miriam A. Hyman, Jake Choi, Cathy Shim, Keong Sim, Jordan Williams, and Camrus Johnson.
A teenager finds love at a difficult time in her family’s life.
Surprisingly, The Sun Is Also a Star was only written by one person, because if there were multiple names attached it would have offered up an explanation as to how this teen romance can repeatedly alternate between genuinely touching while making effective use of its diverse minority leads, and business as usual for the genre complete with predictability, dumb characters, clichés, overkill on the false endings, and a few scenes so embarrassing and out of touch with the rest of the narrative that it’s baffling anyone thought they were a good idea.
It’s also written by a woman (Tracy Oliver who has done work on Barbershop, Girls Trip, and most recently Little) and directed by one (Ry Russo-Young has previously worked on the very misguided Before I Fall), both of whom are adapting Nicola Yoon’s novel. And while the film definitely places Yara Shahidi’s Natasha at the forefront of the story, it’s also perplexing that a production composed entirely of women (at least in the most important roles) is sort of breaking down this highly intelligent and gifted girl who does not believe in romance just because Charles Mellon’s Daniel is an aspiring doctor/poet that is irrationally in love the idea of destiny and fate. Worse than that, his behavior and personality can be interpreted multiple ways; yes, he certainly does deserve a conversation with the beautiful girl after saving her from getting hit by a car (not even the most ridiculous thing in the movie, so get ready for a lot more craziness but it’s totally okay because the movie is self-aware and acknowledges plot devices like deus ex machina…), but his hypothesis that he can convince her to fall in love with him within an hour (at first he says the whole day, but Natasha doesn’t have that kind of time) based on answers to some kind of proven questionnaire is certainly a lot to throw on someone in an initial dialogue.
Even with that in mind, it’s actually kind of easy to invest in their budding friendship; Daniel doesn’t just notice Natasha for her looks, but is more taken aback by her pausing to look upward in wonderment (for whatever reason, he is casually observing citizens at the train station) due to her fascination with astronomy. None of them also mention appearances as something they look for in a significant other when the topic is brought up. I don’t really buy it but it’s nice that the filmmakers are actively trying to dispel that this is nothing more than a Hollywood romance involving attractive people. Realistically speaking, it’s probably a lot easier to let an overly confident buff Korean man ramble about his instant attraction and ability to flip that existentialist attitude upside down versus some random uggo doing the same thing. It’s basically Fifty Shades of Grey for teenagers, but not in terms of sexual content, just that you can get away with being creepy when other factors are involved.
Anyway, The Sun Is Also a Star quickly recovers from this bad start by putting a respectable amount of focus on the characters themselves, especially their cultures. Natasha mainly doesn’t have much time to hang out with Daniel as she is making a last-ditch effort to appeal to immigration offices about letting her family stay rather than face deportation and go home to Jamaica the following day. She is clearly very Americanized and considers New York her home. Meanwhile, Daniel’s family owns a small store selling black hair care products, which is both explained logically and problematic. There’s a scene where Natasha and Daniel visit the store, which is probably the best scene in the movie because the events that unfold inside there elicit the sensation that this is not just another teen romance and that it actually wants to explore cultures and interracial relationships at more than face value. It’s not just a movie about a Korean boy starcrossed for a black girl where some Hollywood executives can pat themselves on the back for diverse casting, there are moments where the movie wants to become something more.
It actually brings to mind last year’s Crazy Rich Asians, which explored the customs and traditions and so much more, but for whatever reason The Sun Is Also a Star would rather not continue going down this eye-opening route, regressing back into something more palatable and generic. The activities become more basic, Natasha seemingly becomes another person entirely within two hours and begins losing her head on what matters, and the acts of fate become more ludicrous one by one. John Leguizamo plays a character in this movie that randomly is able to help so many crucial characters with different things that I don’t even know what his job title is. Hell, they should have just named his character deus ex machina. Also, for a film that occasionally wants to address racism, it’s probably not wise to have a tonally out of place flashback sequence involving parents encouraging their son to become a doctor.
Unfortunately, whatever good there is to talk about is thrown away for a never-ending sentimental finale that is full of unbelievable circumstances and gaps in logic. For at least an hour, you are waiting for someone to mention that even if Natasha does have to go home, it’s not the end of the world for them considering social media exists, but the movie only addresses that when it can conveniently use it for more emotional manipulation. The message behind its brief mention is also a terrible one, but whatever suits the cloying story trying to be told I suppose. I almost came away a supporter of The Sun Is Also a Star, but whenever it got interesting it’s like one of those script doctors from the classic Jordan Peele skit came in to shit things up. 75% of the movie is varying degrees of enjoyable, but that last portion is so bad it kills everything that precedes it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com