I genuinely love a good, grown-up romance film. I’m not talking about rom-coms, and you damn well better know the difference. But lately most of the attempts at genuine, heartfelt, on-screen romance have been populated by teens and 20-somethings, and I’m certainly not saying they can’t feel love, but they seem to often mistake big gestures that risk embarrassment with actual affection and emotion. With that in mind, I will absolutely give The Sun Is Also A Star, the second adaptation of a Nicola Yoon novel (after the disastrous Everything, Everything), points for at least getting the set up and some of the follow-through right. Sure, the leads are both at the tail end of high school, but they are both going through potentially traumatic things in their individual lives, so when they run into each other on the streets of New York City, a part of the reason they are attracted to each other is that quiet desperation recognizes itself in others.
Natasha (Yara Shahidi of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” fame) is a young woman and would-be astronomer who claims to not believe in love. Her Jamaican-born family have been living in the U.S. for most of her life and are a day away from being deported. She is racing around the city attempting to delay what appears to be the inevitable when she is saved from getting hit by a car by Daniel (Charles Melton of “Riverdale”), a Korean-American amateur poet who is being pressured by his parents to become a doctor. In fact, he was on his way to his college interview when they meet. They both have appointments shortly and decide to kill time with each other and discuss life, love, and dreams, during which he bets her the impossible: that by the end of their time together, he can make her fall in love with him.
While the primary storyline is this potential love connection, the more pressing issues in their lives both conspire against bigger life goals and give them time to get to know each other and dig deeper into the other’s problematic situations. Although neither is a particularly strong actor—they both adapt a persona and never really stray from it to reveal much depth—Shahidi and Melton do have a worthy chemistry that keeps us mildly curious where this troubled relationship might land. Each one is given the time to take the other on a mini-tour of their life, and not surprisingly, they grow to care for each other, or at least appreciate the other’s situation to such a degree that empathy wins the day.
Director Ry Russo-Young (Before I Fall), working from a screenplay by Tracy Oliver, keeps things moving and allows the audience to fall for this couple as they fall for each other. The film’s deepest flaws all seem to exist in the final act, when we find out the fate of this fledgling pair and also what follows over the next five years (I won’t lie, it was weird seeing the title card “Five Years Later” again, so soon after Avengers: Endgame). Was this couple destined to be together? Can the unquantifiable force of love triumph over all, even the mind of a character who only believes in facts? What the hell do you think?
The Sun Is Also a Star is neither a complete failure nor a total success, but as someone who considers even a partial victory in the realm of romance films a win, I’ll take this marginally likable work.
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