To the Stars, 2019.
Directed by Martha Stephens.
Starring Kara Hayward, Liana Liberato, Shea Wigham, Malin Akerman, Tony Hale, Adelaide Clemens, Jordana Spiro, Lucas Jade Zumann, Tina Parker, Madisen Beaty, Lauren Ashley Stephenson and Sophi Bairley.
Under small town scrutiny, a withdrawn farmer’s daughter forges an intimate friendship with a worldly but reckless new girl in 1960s Oklahoma.
From debut writer Shannon Bradley-Colleary and director Martha Stephens (Land Ho!), To the Stars spans the scope of formative female friendship, from tentative beginnings to the importance of its expectations and challenges.
Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom, Manchester by the Sea) is an awkward teen, ostracised by her peers in small-town Wakita, Oklahoma for her shyness, as well as an embarrassingly weak bladder. Her resentful mother (Jordana Spiro, Ozark) and unhappy father (Shea Wigham, Boardwalk Empire) mean Iris, although simply enduring most of her existence, has developed a slight (quiet) independent streak. This combination attracts the attention of confident new girl Maggie Richmond (Liana Liberato, If I Stay, The Best of Me), and the two develop a close bond with their chalk-and-cheese outward attitudes as they try to figure out one another’s secrets. Swimming around the edges are the Songbirds, the school’s popular cheerleading clique, as well as the entrenched views of the student body towards a loner like Iris.
Although stylishly shot and costumed, the film gives what feels like a more realistic – if still nostalgia-driven – look at rural 1960s America: quieter, more evocative of the times and minus the usual retro sheen Hollywood tends to splash about.
To the Stars is reasonably formulaic in its context as a high school-based film, featuring the usual touchstones of bullying, boys, bitchy girls – and a makeover. But its period setting adds a little more danger for the reckless Maggie, who has already forced her family to up sticks under whispered circumstances. It also embraces its heroines in a more poignant and emotive narrative than the usual, more bland teen dramas.
The cast is impressive, featuring the likes of Malin Akerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) and Tony Hale (Toy Story 4, Veep) in supporting roles as Maggie’s parents, alongside Adelaide Clemens (The Great Gatsby) as quiet but kind cosmetologist Hazel – also somewhat of an outsider, and trying to avoid gossip in suffocating Wakita. Largely thanks to thoughtful acting, most characters are lifted off the page and help to suggest a rich history for the town and themselves. Hayward and Liberato are worthy leads, steadfast in their characterisations and able to avoid Iris or Maggie becoming overwrought or dipping into mawkishness melodrama.
The ending of To the Stars is left artistically vague, which, although it nicely matches the spirit and mood of its characters, is somewhat implausible. This final stumble also slightly fumbles an overall message for the film, other than vindicating what viewers will already have learned to think of open-minded Iris.
To the Stars is an evocative coming-of-age drama that manages to follow the groove it cuts for itself, and says just enough differently to its predecessors, to make it worth a watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
To the Stars is available on the following digital download platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky, Virgin, Chili.