Grade: C
Entire family: No
2019, 100 min., Color
Romance
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language
Warner Bros. / MGM
Aspect ratio: 16×9 letterboxed widescreen (enhanced)
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

My teenage daughter (the target audience) said The Sun Is Also a Star reminded her of Everything, Everything (2017), which was based on a novel by Nicola Yoon. She wasn’t a fan of that film, nor this one, which is also based on a novel by Yoon—though as a fan of Riverdale she did like seeing Charles Melton (Reggie) as the male lead.

In this teen novel-turned-film, Melton plays Daniel Jae Ho Bae, the “number one son” in a Korean family—which, we’re told, means he has no choice as to what he will do with his life. His parents want him to go to Dartmouth and become a doctor, rather than work in the family business, which, inexplicably, is running a black hair care store. So of course Daniel, who is at odds with his brother, ends up meeting and falling for a black girl who also happens to be an immigrant. He’s on his way to an important interview to secure a recommendation so that he can get into Dartmouth, and she’s on her way to the Immigration office to try to fight the deportation order that would have her family return to Jamaica the very next day.

What Daniel really wants to be is a poet, but from what we hear he’d better stick to hair care or med school. It’s the poet in him that makes him a romantic of gigantic proportions, so when he talks about “deus ex machina” that day and later sees it written on the jacket of this young woman at the train station, he pursues her until she agrees to give him the one day he needs to convince her that love is real—even by scientific principles. Natasha (Yara Shahidi, Blackish) wants to become an astronomer, and their story is told from her point of view, which means we get these pretentious sounding monologues and scientific drawings onscreen, accompanied by her voiceover.

As tonally brooding as this film can get, it’s balanced nicely by up-tempo songs performed by Jain, Phyllis Dillon, Michael Kiwanuka, Mina, Camrus Johnson, Tunji Ige, Riz La Vie, Lil Yachty, Shin Joong Hyun, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, Major Lazer, Dask, moistbreezy, Susie Suh x Robot Koch, Leroy Sibbles, and Bazzi. The only stinker is an overlong annoying cover of Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” (which was borderline annoying to begin with).

The music in The Sun is Also a Star is better than the acting, and the acting is better than the screenplay, which is contrived, hokey, illogical, and riddled with the kind of pretension you get when a group of grad students meet in a coffee shop.

Except that these aren’t grad students. They’re high school students, though they both look and act old enough to have already graduated from college. The problem is that when this film tries to say something profound about fate vs. coincidence, or about love as science, it takes on a cloak of hokeyness.

Worse, though, are the film’s contrivances. If your family is being deported the next day and you need to pack or else your father threatens to throw your stuff away, and if you go to the immigration office upset and leave even more upset, and if you are told to call an immigration attorney who might be able to help, would you spend the day gazing at station ceiling and playing along with a guy who wants to convince you that the two of you are meant to be together? Natasha goes from losing-her-s**t urgency to being wistful and lolling around with this guy, then back to urgency again. It just doesn’t ring true.

And we won’t even get into the film’s coincidences that are presented not as such but as arguments that fate has brought them together, and fate then must be something akin to scientific determinism. When both teens turn up at the same office it feels not just extremely unlikely but hokey as well, and a postscript will have teens scratching their heads. Natasha’s character was less likable than Daniel’s, but at least her family side dramas felt necessary to the plot; Daniel’s were just extraneous subplots that went nowhere.

The Fault in Our Stars proved that it is possible to make a teen film like this that isn’t hokey or contrived or riddled with pretension. But that one was based on a novel by John Green. Maybe, in the end, it’s all on the writers.

Language: One f-bomb and around a handful of lesser swearwords

Sex: Only a few kissing scenes, with the participants fully clothed

Violence: Someone is hit by a car, but that’s the extent of it

Adult situations: No drugs, no smoking, no drinking; it’s pretty tame

Takeaway: Just as there’s a market for romance novels, there’s a young audience out there that actually likes Yoon’s novels, and that group will lean toward B range on this film

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