Review: ‘Sun Is Also a Star’ is a timely, charming teen romance

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Yara Shahidi, left, and Charles Melton in “The Sun Is Also a Star.”

By Pat Padua | Washington Post

With a title that reads like a line of bad teenage love poetry – one whose “I” might as well be dotted with a heart – and a plot that involves a series of improbable coincidences, “The Sun Is Also a Star” seems, on the surface, as if it wouldn’t appeal to many beyond the target demographic of its source material: a 2016 young-adult novel by Nicole Yoon, author of “Everything, Everything.” But you don’t have to be a lovesick adolescent to fall, just a little, for its goofy energy.

The movie’s premise is timely, if overheated: 17-year-old Natasha (Yara Shahidi of “Grown-ish”) was born in Jamaica but lives with her undocumented immigrant family in Brooklyn. Daniel (Charles Melton of “Riverdale”) is a first-generation Korean American who loves to write poetry. His father, who owns an African American hair-care shop in Harlem, wants him to go to med school.

Over the course of a day in New York City, these two beautiful young people from wildly different cultures fall in love. But there’s a catch: Natasha’s family is to be deported the next day. Can she get the court to decision to reverse the decision? Will Daniel put aside his dream to pursue the profession his father wants for him? The answers may surprise no one, but they involve what Daniel and Natasha would call destiny.

The lovebirds meet cute: Daniel pulls Natasha out of the way of a speeding car – a maneuver straight out of a soap opera. Like those over-the-top melodramas, this movie’s contrivance level is off the charts.

All this may sound ridiculous on paper, but director Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”) somehow manages to sell this madness, aided by the convincing visual flair of cinematographer Autumn Durald, whose bird’s-eye views of Manhattan convey the delirium of young love. Her camera catches the scope of the big city, a hugeness that not only overwhelms the concerns of these two not-yet fully-formed adults but also thrills them with a sense of possibility. Lens flares distort the sun’s rays – much like love goggles – and sweeping camera movements carry the viewer along for a roller-coaster ride that seems to track with Natasha and Daniel’s emotions. (It helps that the leads are so attractive and likable.)

The “great melting pot” setting makes a point: This is Russo-Young’s idealized vision of America. A loving close-up of the Statue of Liberty (looking strangely like Sylvester Stallone for some reason) drives it home.

And yet the movie doesn’t shy away from racial tensions; Daniel’s family makes assumptions about Natasha, based on her skin and hair. (In one of its more curious asides, the film offers an explanation of why Korean Americans have a lock on the African American hair-care business in New York.) And the film doesn’t exactly have a fairy tale ending.

“The Sun is Also a Star” suggests something intriguing: representation matters – but not just so we can see ourselves on-screen. It’s also important to see perspectives other than our own.

At the heart of the movie is a love story: one that’s universal enough to recall every other one ever told. But there’s a specificity to this personal journey to the land of opportunity that suggests the hopefulness of the American Dream. If its heart-pounding romance doesn’t make you cry, its sorely needed sense of optimism will surely make you smile.

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’

2 1/2 stars

Rating: PG-13 (Contains some suggestive material and strong language)

Running time: 100 minutes

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