the sun is also a star
review by lora hartin
New York native Ry Russo-Young’s newest feature The Sun is Also a Star is full of good intentions. This modern Manhattan love story takes the time to tackle topical issues such as ICE raids, immigration reform, and the fallout of First Generation diaspora; all serving as the backdrop to an ill-fated meeting of a pair of star-crossed lovers who have just one day to spend together in the city. It’s a film that should be bursting at the seams with the same urgency as its subject matter. Unfortunately, this effort is thwarted by a consistent onslaught of clichés, cheesy dialogue, and contrived performances that make the film feel largely inauthentic.
Natasha Kingsley, played by breakout Blackish star Yara Shahidi, has been ordered to return to Jamaica with the rest of her family following a random ICE raid in her neighbourhood. Distraught and desperate for a way to stay, she seeks out the help of a local lawyer who specialises in cases like hers, which culminates in her meeting with Daniel Bae, played by Charles Melton of Riverdale fame. The run-in itself features an over-the-top ‘damsel in distress’ sequence, in which Daniel saves Natasha from an oncoming car. This moment, like much of the film, may have landed if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously and simply leaned into its own cliché. Instead, the sequence plays out as if it’s the first of its kind, with a total lack of self-awareness that becomes something of a running theme throughout the film.
Shahidi and Melton have limited on-screen chemistry in many of their more intimate scenes, and, as for their individual performances, they seem to spend much of the film attempting to out-brood each other. At times Shahidi visibly struggles to convey the hysteria and upset that her character encounters at the prospect of her family’s removal, and Melton’s portrayal lacks the passion and spontaneity that we would expect to see in a hopeless romantic who wants to ‘throw it all away and pursue his poetry’. The quality of these performances, however, is a shared responsibility, as tonal inconsistencies and poor writing within the film’s script make it difficult for its actors to find their footing. The film’s more serious moments are undermined by stiff dialogue that even the finest actor would find hard to deliver with any authenticity. Many on-screen relationships fail to make an impact because the source material simply does not provide the actors with the means to execute it, particularly the supposedly strained relationship between Daniel and his burn-out brother, which felt so void of any real tension that even their climactic brawl felt nothing short of boring.
The most disappointing aspect of this film was the tale’s potential. With two leading actors of colour and moving subject matter pulled right from today’s headlines, its narrative certainly had the capacity to move its audience; but a fickle script and luke-warm performances meant that it failed in its execution, and is now sure to take its place alongside the countless other unaffecting, limited-release teen dramas that go on to inundate our Netflix homepages.
The Sun Is Also A Star is now screening in select theatres across Ireland.