By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One of the particular joys of being the managing editor of a site like this is doing what I can to make my writers happy, which often means taking on the films each month that are at the bottom of everyone’s lists. This month, I had to cover this film, but I also got to grab something I kind of did want to see in exchange- Detective Pikachu.
So. fucking. bad.
The Sun is Also a Star, adapted from Nicola Yoon’s YA best-seller, follows a day in the New York life of aspiring data scientist Natasha (Yara Shahidi), whose family is about to be deported to Jamaica, and Daniel (Charles Melton), a poetry-obsessed first-generation Korean-American who has a college interview his parents are hanging a lot of expectations on. After a couple of chance encounters start feeling like serendipity, Daniel convinces the skeptical and evidence-based believer Natasha to give him a day to prove that he can, scientifically make her fall in love with him.
I might have taken a huge bullet with Detective Pikachu, but that bad luck was balanced in turn by my good luck with The Sun is Also a Star– yes, I was rather drawn in by it.
Yes, despite that premise. Seriously.
Director Ry Russo-Young approaches the material from an engaging angle- the cultural melting pot that is New York City, a microcosm of the immigrant experience in America. She grounds her film in specificity of place and time and ethnicity, which makes it feel both refreshingly original and much more natural and lived-in than the script otherwise allows for (more on that later).
Russo-Young’s cinematography and editing choices all support this vision, seeking out lesser-known NYC locales and packing parental backstories and fascinating background like the Korean domination of the black haircare industry into beautifully deployed montages. The film is a stylistic calling card, from these visuals and techniques to the catchy soundtrack of rap and pop that perfectly complements them.
Shahidi and Melton both are very winning actors on their own, and, when the film really clicks, demonstrates some great chemistry together, too. Damn if you aren’t as invested as much as the film wants you to be by the end, and a large part of the credit for that is their performances. They both have bright futures ahead of them (even if neither particularly pass for high schoolers).
It sure takes longer than the movie wants it to for that chemistry to manifest itself, though. It’s hamstrung by perhaps necessarily hasty plot developments to move things along, but the falling in love portion of the film just doesn’t feel organic. There are plenty of cheesy, overly earnest lines of dialogue as well. The script, and to be fair, very possibly the source material, are the principal weaknesses of the film.
This one is totally smaller, but the way that they first meet is that Daniel is (non-creepily) following her after noticing her by chance a second time that day from afar, and a car clips a cyclist, then barrels around a corner Natasha’s approaching. Of course he pulls her back at the last second, but later an immigration lawyer played ably by John Leguizamo misses an appointment with her because of an accident he had biking into work. When they do meet up later, it’s hard to miss the heavy implication that he is that cyclist, but they don’t recognize each other at all. I won’t spoil how, but this is just compounded later with another chance encounter. It annoyed me greatly.
The Sun is Also a Star, despite a few weaknesses characteristic of its genre, is a winning love letter to the cultural melting pot of America and the loves stories it engenders.
The Sun is Also a Star (2019) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every chance encounter (of any characters)
Take a Drink: for every new appointment time mentioned (for either class of appointment)
Take a Drink: for every mention of the love survey (yeah, there’s a love survey, and it kind of doesn’t matter much)
Do a Shot: whenever you see “Deus Ex Machina”