2.5 stars (out of 4)
The Sun Is Also a Star is a so-so Gen Z spin on Before Sunrise with a dash of Serendipity. You’ve seen it all before and you’ll probably forget about it as soon as the lights go up. But look on the bright side: At least this adaptation of the YA best-seller is a sweet, big-hearted alternative to all the CGI’d summer blockbusters.
In New York City, Natasha (Yara Shahidi, Black-ish), a quantum physics-loving student, is facing the worst day of her life. Tomorrow morning, she and her parents are scheduled to be deported back to Jamaica. And it’s up to her to convince authorities — the state, a lawyer, whoever — to reverse the decision. Over on the other side of town, Daniel (Charles Melton, Riverdale) is prepping for a big Ivy League college-admissions interview. In a city of 8 million people, it’s highly unlikely their paths should ever cross. But wait!
First Daniel spots her in a crowd at Grand Central station. She stands out because her jacket is emblazoned with his favorite Latin phrase on the back. He literally chases after her, to no avail. Then he sees her again on the street. This time, a car is about to swerve onto a sidewalk and hit her. She’s not paying attention, and he saves her in the nick of time. Yes! An official introduction! The pair start talking and become instantly enamored with each other. And though it bears repeating that she could be leaving the country for good in a matter of hours, she and Daniel get coffee, go to the planetarium to look up at the solar system and do some serious making out. It’s true love … maybe?
Soft pass to the ultra-trite premise, as the filmmakers simply adapted the basic plot from Nicola Yoon’s 2016 best-seller. (Though certainly the idea of a hottie vampire falling for a human is more believable than a guy finding the same girl twice within an hour.) Let’s also forgive the mounting coincidences surrounding the couple as they traipse around the city. Too often, Manhattan can seem like a cruel beast made of concrete. There’s something magical seeing it covered in only-in-the-movies fairy dust. Indeed, a subway conductor would never ever relay sappy personal anecdotes over the P.A. during a underground delay beyond “there is train traffic ahead; we should be moving shortly.”
For this kind of YA fantasy to truly work in an authentic way, we need to invest in the couple themselves. And this is where The Sun Is Also a Star fails to shine. Natasha and Daniel are so consumed with destiny babble that they don’t actually say anything interesting or profound to each other that would suggest they’d make it as a legit couple in the long run. Or, yikes, even when the sun comes up. All that on-point dialogue from Yoon’s source material — sharp enough to merit National Book Award nomination — is missing on the screen. You can’t blame the constraints of the medium, either: The acclaimed successes of Love, Simon and The Hate U Give both recently proved otherwise.
If anything, Daniel’s behavior in The Sun Is Also a Star is just a few shades less creepy than Joe’s crazy hijinks in You. Preoccupied with the notion that Natasha is his dream girl, he follows her around and refuses to leave her side. He even waits around in the lobby after she meets with an immigration lawyer. And though she tells him repeatedly that she needs to go home, he insists that she go with him to his family’s place of business. This behavior comes off as swoon-worthy because Daniel is an aspiring poet (and because the handsome Melton wears a please-like-me! expression on his face). Friends, there’s a difference between being supportive and full-on grating. Especially with a virtual stranger!
Forget physics. These teens need to work on their chemistry.
The Sun Is Also a Star is in theaters on Friday, May 17.