Movie Review – The Sun Is Also A Star
In a film that’s directed by a woman, Ry Russo-Young, that’s written by a woman, Tracy Oliver, that’s based on a book by a woman, Nicola Yoon, and that stars a woman, Yara Shahidi, it’s a little odd that the least interesting and the least explored character would be the woman. This film is a teenage love story. It takes place all in one day and mostly features a teenage girl and teenage boy roaming New York City, allegedly falling in love. There appears to be some balance in the telling of their and their family’s stories. By the end though, it becomes obvious that the film is skewed to give us more about the boy than about the girl. By the end, the girl doesn’t feel as fully fleshed out or as much of a thought-out person than the boy. The script leaves the boy lacking in his characterization, but he still gets more than her.
Shahidi (Grown-ish and Black-ish) stars as Natasha Kingsley, a teenage black girl who is probably 16 or 17. She lives in New York, somewhere, probably Brooklyn. She’s not from New York, but she’s lived there for nine years. Her parents moved her and her little brother there from Jamaica to try to make a better life. She’s interested in science and wants to work in that field. There are certain things in the city that she likes to do like stare at the ceiling of Grand Central Terminal because it has an ode to astronomy painted on it. She also has a very cynical view of love, and that’s basically all we get about her.
The plot of the film is that Natasha’s family is being deported and on the final day that the family has in the United States before they’re put on a plane back to Jamaica, Natasha makes an appointment with a lawyer to try to stop the deportation. Unlike the rest of her family, she really doesn’t want to leave because she sees New York as her home. Obviously, this is a plot that is very topical and relevant to our current times, given that immigration has been a very hot topic since the 2016 election. President Trump has made the issue about the U.S.-Mexico border, but a significant issue are immigrants who come here by plane or by boat from countries separated from ours by water.
Regardless, the problem for children of immigrants who aren’t born here is that often they’re brought here at a young age and are raised here for their whole lives, so that deporting them to a foreign country can be an extreme culture shock. Their ability to adapt or even survive could be something of which to worry or be afraid. However, as a character points out early, Natasha is going to Jamaica. The culture shock of going there isn’t that extreme. Jamaica used to be a British colony. It’s not like being shipped off to China or Syria.
However, for Natasha, it feels like she is being shipped off to China or Syria. Of course, I don’t want to minimize her or anyone’s feelings about being deported. I simply wish that this film would have explored or examined those feelings more. She’s lived in New York for nearly a decade, but that still means she spent pretty much the first decade of her life in Jamaica before her parents moved. Unlike her brother, it’s not as if she was a baby when she came to America, which means she must have memories and feelings about Jamaica. How did she feel about having to leave Jamaica and come to America the first time?
Yet, even if we accept the premise that she has no memory or feelings about her time as a little girl in Jamaica, that’s fine. If the point is to show what she’s leaving and what she’s losing by being deported, this film doesn’t do a good enough job of conveying that. Normally, that would be conveyed by showing her life in the city. Given that this film takes place all in one day, it makes conveying her life more difficult, but the film could accomplish it by simply having her talk about it more. Aside from one memory in Grand Central Terminal, I don’t get what is tying her to this city.
It doesn’t even seem like Natasha has any friends. Yes, the plot wants her to be hyper-focused on a meeting with a lawyer, but, it seems odd that not a single one of her friends would call or try to spend time with her on her last day and night in the country. Given her cynical view of love, maybe that’s meant to be intentional, but if she has no friends, that feels like something that should be a topic of discussion because what does that say about her life in America anyway?
Charles Melton (Riverdale and American Horror Story) co-stars as Daniel Bae, a first-generation immigrant or possibly second-generation who was supposedly born in the United States. He’s of Korean-descent. His parents own and operate a business in Harlem. He speaks Korean. He’s possibly 17 or 18. He’s preparing to go to college, so he’s most likely a senior in high school. His parents want him to go to Dartmouth and become a doctor, but he would rather be a poet. He perhaps wants to do other kinds of writing but the only thing he talks about is doing poetry.
How he intends to support himself in a city like New York is never explored. However, what is explored is a whole lot more with him than we get of Natasha. Unlike Natasha, we get to see Daniel’s best friend and some kind of indication that he has a life and human connections to this place. We also see Daniel interacting with his family, particularly his brother, Charlie, played by Jake Choi (Single Parents and Front Cover). Through these interactions and dynamics, we get the usual insight into the tension between immigrant parents and their children, as well as tensions surrounding assimilation and advancement.
This is way more though than what we get for Natasha. Therefore, it makes it difficult to buy or accept her romance on any kind of substantial level. The only thing we get is a romance purely on a superficial level. Yes, Daniel recognizes her love of astronomy, but we don’t know if he digs any deeper. The reason we don’t know is because the film doesn’t really give the two any meaningful conversations beyond the shallow and a refrain about fate or destiny, which is treated with more weight here than it should. There are a couple of montages that are wordless of the two enjoying New York and giving loving glances or stares at each other, but it doesn’t give us any depth or more insight into why they might be falling in love.
Lastly, there were several moments that were either cringe-worthy or sheer turn-offs. The first is a story that a train conductor tells over the loudspeaker in the subway. The subway train is delayed and the story is about how a train was delayed on 9/11 that ended up saving the life of the conductor. Besides being inappropriate, it felt highly offensive because it’s a story about fate and it makes it seem like all the people who died on 9/11 were fated to do so. Another cringe-worthy moment is the scene where Daniel sings karaoke to Natasha. I don’t know if it’s intentional but Melton can’t sing or doesn’t sing the karaoke song very well.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
The film ends with Natasha getting deported and losing contact with Daniel, despite professing her love for him before she leaves. My question is why did they lose contact? Why couldn’t they chat online or by phone using video?
Five years later, Natasha returns to New York on a student visa. She claims to have no clue how to reach Daniel when a plot point in the film is how she goes to Daniel’s brother who works at his parents’ store in Harlem. She claims to have no way to find him until she accidentally runs into him in Caffe Reggio in Lower Manhattan, but it all feels so contrived.
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.