Neither contrived sentimentality nor a prevailing corniness can cast a shadow on “The Sun is Also a Star,” the big screen adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s best selling young adult novel about two teenagers who fall for each other after one magical day in New York City. Catering to helpless romantics the world over, the film is a “Before Sunrise” and “Serendipity” rip-off, but with 80% less compelling conversation and 95% less believability.
Korean-American Daniel (Charles Melton) and Jamaica-born Natasha (Yara Shahidi) meet by happenstance on the streets of the big city. Daniel is headed to a college interview for medical school at the behest of his parents, and Natasha is hoping to schedule a meeting with an immigration lawyer to fight her family’s rapidly approaching deportation deadline. Sparks fly and a heated romance quickly ensues, leading the pair to question if the universe pushed them together on a day like this because of fate or sheer randomness.
Daniel is a sensitive, dreamy guy who writes poetry and Natasha is a cynical realist who relishes science-based evidence over silly notions of frivolous things like love. Where Daniel sees fate, she sees coincidences, prompting him to prove to her in just one day that love is real.
If you’re still reading this review after the above paragraph, then this movie is going to be right up your alley.
Life can be a series of missed or made connections, and it’s the rare person who hasn’t had at least one happenstance that caused them to take pause and ask if destiny was at play. In this movie, the teens find themselves in progressively artificial, forced situations that cause their daily lives to intersect. A little suspension of disbelief is one thing, but the audience is asked to believe increasingly implausible, random meetings during the time span of two days; all the while these two are falling head over heels in love.
This is a film where the hokey and the sincere exist in peaceful harmony. Daniel is the (mostly superficial) manifestation of just about every hormone-raging teen’s idea of the perfect partner. This sensitive dreamboat is as charming as they come, with his smoldering stare and toothy grin and handsome head of tousled hair that falls just so as he reads from a journal of original prose.
Natasha is a more complex character with a larger burden to bear in the story. The modern immigrant experience in United States is seen through her eyes and told from her point of view, which gives a more approachable and sympathetic face to undocumented families and their kids who are so ingrained into their American lives that they barely remember anything about their homeland. We can only hope this will make the idea of “illegals” a little easier for the more Right-leaning citizens of our country to swallow.
No doubt the film is heavy handed, but despite the story’s hot-button issue slant that deals with the real plight of undocumented immigrants, it fosters a humanity without getting overtly political about it. There’s no direct chastising of the Trump Nation supporters (which you’d expect in a film like this), only kinder, gentler, not-so-subtle reminders that America is a melting pot for all. (Like the exaggerated camera choreography that lingers on the Statue of Liberty. At sunset. Accompanied by impassioned musical swells).
There’s not as much subtext to the story of love struck teenagers as there could (or possibly should) be. The idea of a younger generation struggling with tradition and the sins of their elders is briefly touched upon but then tossed aside in favor of slow moving montages set to music. Rather than indulging in more meaningful, timely conversations, the pair is instead shown romantically piddling around New York.
It’s easy to lose sight that this is still just a story about happy accidents and how being in the right place at the right time can change your life’s path. And because of the irresistibly charismatic leads this cliché-riddled love story works, despite how superficial (and at times, unbelievable) it may be.
While it isn’t as poignant as similar young adult films like “The Fault In Our Stars” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The sun is also a star” manages to find success as something more substantial and savvy than the usual mindless fluff.