Stars at Noon, 2022.
Directed by Claire Denis.
Starring Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, John C. Reilly, Danny Ramirez, Nick Romano, Robin Durán, Stephan Proaño, Héctor Moreno, Sebastian Donoso, and Monica Bartholomew.
In present-day Nicaragua, a headstrong American journalist and a mysterious English businessman strike up a romance as they become embroiled in a dangerous labyrinth of lies and conspiracies and are forced to try and escape the country.
For her second film of the year, director Claire Denis has updated Denis Johnson’s novel The Stars at Noon (dropping the article for the film’s title), co-writing the screenplay alongside Andrew Litvack and Léa Mysius, shifting from 1984 Nicaragua to modern times global health crisis Nicaragua.
There also happens to be much unexplored political strife and tension, which feels a bit tone-deaf in a film that could be succinctly summarized as two attractive white people falling in love and fucking for over two hours. If the point is to relay a standard “times haven’t changed since the publication of this book” message, one would presume it would behoove the filmmakers to make a more significant effort to dive into such Central American conflicts.
The upside is that the two gorgeous specimens are played by Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn, who don’t necessarily elicit an emotional connection to their swooning over one another, but something more carnally palpable. Again, there is plenty of sex and nudity here, all done so well and authentically without holding back that it’s, depressingly, a relief to observe such erotic encounters during a time when sex often feels erased from movies, including ones that are meant to be charged by sexual activity.
There’s an unfortunate amount to Stars at Noon that is plodding and seemingly pointless, but not without a compelling stretch watching these characters make reckless choices trying to escape the country and keep their romance burning.
Trish (Margaret Qualley) is apparently a disgraced freelance journalist who has a habit of disappearing on assignments (or something along those lines). It’s all brought up when she gains Internet access, and Zoom calls her editor (an amusing cameo played straight by John C. Reilly), who has no interest in getting her a passport to cross over to Costa Rica. He also mentions a controversial story Trish ran that got her into this mess. However, Stars at Night doesn’t have much concern for these elements, which would give some much-needed expansion to Trish as a character.
Instead, Trish operates as a prostitute for a few of the connections she does have, which leads her to the mysterious and possible spy Daniel (Joe Alwyn) whom she falls for hard, even when an American agent played by Benny Safdie intervenes and tries to explain that he is responsible for some horrendous crimes making lives worse for the locals. On some level, there’s a deep admiration for Stars at Noon functioning as a relaxed story with characters so horny for one another that they refuse to listen to reason and continuously embark on a path simultaneously dangerous and sensual.
However, at a punishing 138 minutes, Stars at Noon frequently comes across as hollow and disinterested in these people as characters and the story’s setting. As a result, the film raises questions rather than answering some of the ones we already have, all while Trish and Daniel repeatedly fuck. They are both talented and skilled here, especially at conveying that physical lust, but eventually, one requires something else to further invest in this narrative, something that never comes (although the characters certainly do come, so good for them).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com