While there’re varying degrees with which one can look at themselves in relation to the universe, there are two distinct perspectives which stand in opposition. Either the universe is an uncaring, vast space born out of chaos and we are nothing but an accident riding a very large rock as it hurtles millions of miles an hour OR the universe is a complicated web of ideas, driven with an unknowable purpose that only unfolds as things are destined to unfold. It’s science vs. the humanities. It’s logic vs. romance. Whichever side of the perception divide you fall upon, the answer cannot be found in a book; rather, it’s all up to you. Young Adult and multi-bestselling author Nicola Yoon (Everything, Everything) tackles the notion of individuality and personal freedom in her novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, now adapted by director Ry Russo-Young (Before I Fall) and available on home video. Like Everything, Star is a tale of young love beset by tragedy, however, it lacks the twist ending of the latter in favor of something more mature. It doesn’t fully elevate the rather innocently romantic Star out of its YA roots, but it does enable the message of hopeful optimism to ring louder than any dissent.
Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shadidi) is having a rough day. Instead of doing school work, playing with her friends, or looking at colleges, she’s spending her days trying to fight a decision by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department that’s sending her and her family back to Jamaica. While her parents and brother spend their last 24-hours in New York City packing, Natasha is trying to set up meetings with anyone who might be able to help. Differently aggrieved is Daniel Bae (Charles Melton), a first-generation immigrant prepping for an interview with a Dartmouth alumnus so that he can get started on the path to being the doctor his parents want him to be. By forces purposeful or random, Natasha and Daniel meet when he saves her from a reckless driver, an incident which changes the course of their lives forever as they spend the next 24 hours by each other’s side.
The Sun Is Also a Star is a strange kind of romance tale. On the one hand, it’s exactly what it purports itself to be, a tale of young love wherein the fates (or whomever) plot to rend them apart just as soon as they find each other in a vast city of people. It’s naïve and foolish. It somehow bends time and space so that the characters can visit a planetarium, window shop, sing karaoke, and only run into one metro stop the entire day. This is, after all, a romance, so some bending of reality is to be expected and the heart of this writer is not above the sweet charms of screenwriter Tracy Oliver’s (Girls Trip) adaptation or Russo-Young’s energetic and hope-inspiring direction. Perhaps age places a cloud over the sweeter aspects of Star because there’s also something downright creepy about it at first. The whole reason Daniel is in a position to save Natasha is because he followed her from the train station onto a new train and down the block. How someone reads this depends on how in the mood for love they are. It’s hard not to read this as a touch creepy, especially since Natasha has headphones on, a clear sign that she doesn’t want to be bothered. Yet, if not for Daniel’s high level of interest, Natasha would’ve been street pizza. Somehow, knowing this, his reason for following her is diminished, as well as Melton’s ability to make Daniel seem wholesome and endearing, which he very much honestly is. It doesn’t hurt that Shadidi convincingly portrays Natasha as someone who wouldn’t suffer a fool, anyway.
Before words like “curmudgeon” are tossed around, please keep in mind that when Star works, it very much works. The idea that two people who may be perfect for each other meeting at the absolute wrong times in their lives transcends time, race, and class. Both are in a fight for personal identity, which they each struggles to face and whose company makes things easier. For Natasha, she’s living in a country that she loves whose court systems betrayed that love by seeing her as less-than. For Daniel, it’s a different culture war, one where assimilation still creates a schism between personal and cultural identity. Star dances around some rich content between segments of holding hands at the video lectures on the cosmos and karaoke. These personal struggles make their connection feel more real, which is a testament to the creative team (Yoon, Oliver, and Russo-Young) as well as Shadidi and Melton. But while they are falling in love, the world around them seems intent on tearing them apart, an aspect which does pull at the heart strings. Despite this, though, what makes Natasha and Daniel compelling as characters isn’t their budding attraction, but the conflicts they’re each in the process of enduring. It’s really after the expected confrontation/falling out which occurs in virtually every romantic story that a shift happens and Star finally explores more of Daniel’s conflict and with some vigor. His story is just as significant as Natasha’s, yet it’s one that’s first relegated to “hopeless romantic” and “creepy stalker-guy” until the audience is given a bigger view into his world.
Included on the disc is an exceptionally brief featurette titled “Love is a Universe.” After recapping the defining traits of Natasha (science-loving pragmatist) and Daniel (poet), the two leads, Yoon, and Russo-Young offer their thoughts on the making of the film. It’s clear from the film itself that it was shot in New York, but it’s particularly encouraging to hear how they actually went to places named in the book. Location work is often more difficult, but is always more rewarding to the audience. In this case, fans of the novel will marvel at the page-to-screen truthfulness. Beyond this and a few other amusing pieces of information, the featurette doesn’t do much to expand upon the cinematic experience or the original novel. For physical format fans, the features are lackluster, whereas the digital experience seems to be richer, offering an additional featurette, an alternate scene, and a deleted scene. It’s strange that the features aren’t identical, so be mindful of the disparity as you make your purchase.
The Sun Is Also a Star is undeniably saccharine and yet is not without its charms. It tries to explore aspects of modern racial conflict and cultural assimilation, but by keeping its focus on the romance, Star loses most of the power it possesses. Who we are is as important as who we become, concepts which Natasha and Daniel struggle with long after their days are done. One thing to truly champion is how Star doesn’t seek to diminish itself for the sake of giving the audience what it wants. Magic may exist in romance stories, but Star is as grounded as it can be. Hope certainly springs eternal, but it doesn’t provide guarantees. With this in mind, The Sun Is Also a Star can be quite charming and unexpected. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the cast, main and supporting (John Leguizamo as lawyer Jeremy Martinez is particularly good), embody their characters as full people, never as tokens or caricatures. These are real people living real lives whose decisions create enormous wakes which they cannot fathom. Surprisingly, The Sun Is Also a Star is just the reminder we need, in the tumultuous times we live in, that a little love can go a long way.
The Sun Is Also a Star DVD contains the following special feature:
- “Love is a Universe” featurette
The Sun Is Also a Star EST contains the following special features:
- “The Chemistry of Casting” featurette
- “Love is a Universe” featurette
- Alternate Scene – “Five Years Later”
- Deleted Scene – “Korean Restaurant”
Available digital beginning August 6th, 2019.
Available on DVD and digital beginning August 20th, 2019.
For more information on The Sun Is Also a Star, head to the official film website.
Final Score: X out of 5.