(CNN)Teen romances are sometimes only as good as their leads, and “The Sun is Also a Star” has a fine pair in “Black-ish’s” Yara Shahidi and “Riverdale’s” Charles Melton. The movie, however — which deals with true love and the universe putting people together — could have given fate an assist by crafting a more substantial vehicle for them.
Based on Nicola Yoon’s bestselling young-adult novel, the movie is most interesting as a look at two immigrant families — one on the verge of being deported — through the eyes of their teenage children.
That aspect takes a back seat, alas, to the dreamy love story, which begins with Daniel (Melton) spotting Shahidi’s Natasha from afar in Grand Central Station, seeing the “Deus Ex Machina” slogan on her jacket and deciding that the two are destined to meet.
“You can’t stop what’s meant to be,” he tells her, begging for a chance to prove that the circumstances that brought them together are preordained, not merely happenstance.
What ensues, in a movie directed by Ry Russo-Young from a script by Tracy Oliver, is a series of seemingly beyond-coincidental encounters, as Natasha tries to find an attorney (John Leguizamo) who might save her family from deportation, while Daniel prepares for an alumni meeting to help secure a spot at Dartmouth that his education-minded parents want far more than he does.
The whole “fall in love in a day” device, though, not only feels strained but labors to approximate the dimensions of a movie, relying heavily on music and meaningful stares. Granted, it’s hard not to like a teen movie that hinges on characters falling for each other to the 50-year-old song “Crimson and Clover,” but too much of “The Sun is Also a Star” feels as if it’s killing time.
For all that, there do appear to be rising stars here, with Shahidi — having graduated from “Black-ish” to her own vehicle, “Grown-ish” — making a fine protagonist and Melton joining “Riverdale” classmates K.J. Apa (“The Last Summer”) and Cole Sprouse (“Five Feet Apart”) in romantic movie roles in just the last few months.
It’s remarkable, in fact, Shahidi and Melton nearly pull this off with such limited support from other characters that barely flash by on screen. Indeed, New York City is really the primary co-star, providing a lavish backdrop for the swoon-worthy moments, such as they are.
People keep publishing — and adapting — young-adult novels for a reason, and “The Sun is Also a Star” is a credible addition to the genre. Yet while time is likely on the side of its leads, their chemistry only goes so far in what feels, finally, like a half-baked movie.
“The Sun is Also a Star” premieres May 17 in the US. It’s rated PG-13.