- The Sun Is Also a Star
- Directed by Ry Russo-Young
- Written by Tracy Oliver
- Starring: Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton
- Classification: PG; 100 minutes
The Sun is Also A Star both begins and ends with a quote from the 1980 book Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by famed astrophysicist Carl Sagan, “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.'" For a film that interrogates destiny, it’s an easy launch pad while also offering a relatively fulsome description of the character who utters it, the rational and gutsy Tasha Kingsley, who in the midst of battling the U.S. immigration system to fight her family’s imminent deportation to Jamaica, believes in the power of human ingenuity to manifest her own future.
Based on the young adult novel of the same name, the film adaptation of The Sun Is Also A Star is a maelstrom of young Hollywood’s ambition to force new cultural narratives into the fortified genre of romantic teen comedy. The film features small screen heavyweights – Yara Shahidi (Black-ish and Grown-ish) as Tasha, and Charles Melton (Riverdale) as Daniel, a dreamy aspiring poet troubled by his parents’ insistence that he become a doctor – and offers a familiar premise: Can they beat the odds stacked against them to fall in love in 24 hours and prove the validity of destiny?
Directed by mumblecore filmmaker Ry Russo-Young, The Sun Is Also A Star is anchored by its visual devices, which prioritize authenticity. Tasha and Daniel keep track of their time hopscotching through the cafés and karaoke bars of New York’s many boroughs – shot in breathless, panoramic views of the city – through selfies and a cracked iPhone screen and over a score of contemporary reggaeton and indie-pop hits from around the globe. Grainy vignettes of early childhood memories and parents falling in love offer insight into their individual histories, and informative stock image shorts slide in critical context for the film’s most salient racial dynamics, such as the origin of Daniel’s American-Korean name and Tasha’s explanation of what America means to her.
That being said, the film is far from perfect. By neatly checking off nearly every teen romance trope and catchphrase, at points the dialogue between the two protagonists feels stiff and dilutes their characters’ most compelling dimensions. Daniel’s relentless pursuit to convince Natasha of the undeniability of fate, reinforces a tired, one-sided legacy of pushy wooing by men who feel entitled to their object of affection. By proving fate correct almost immediately, Natasha and Daniel’s romantic payoff arrives too easily, hindering the potential for their chemistry to blossom organically on-screen and ultimately, diffusing the spontaneity of the film.
But perhaps it’s the film’s predictability (and delightful corniness) that contributes to its charm. At every juncture where a single situation might collapse their relationship – such as one particularly troubling scene, where Daniel’s older brother accuses Tasha of stealing from the black beauty supply store their family owns – the film opts for fantastical optimism, pushing a love story where there’s nothing the two protagonists can’t get through.
It’s a tightly wrapped microcosm of many of the conversations driving our political zeitgeist: towering expectations for first-generation American teens, an escalating and unpredictable immigration climate, exclusive access to a postsecondary education and anti-black racism perpetuated by other racial groups. Because at its core, the film is more than a deliriously predictable love story that wraps with a neatly tied bow – it advocates for a literary license that’s rarely offered to protagonists of colour who grapple with the socio-cultural complexities of love, class and geography. It toys with a degree of cosmic realism: where a wide-eyed trust in destiny is something that two racialized New Yorkers can both test their suspicions against, aspire toward and ultimately, experience in real time.
In an era where the entire film industry is set on bucking long-held traditions, where black cinema has created critically acclaimed horror flicks and an all-Asian cast can produce an international box-office success, we now have space to accommodate compelling (and cheesy) teen romantic comedies, where you can roll your eyes at almost every sequence and, nonetheless, still, want their characters to win.
The Sun Is Also a Star opens May 17
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