By Liam Lacey
Watching the teen romance The Sun Is Also a Star, starring the splendid-looking young couple Yara Shahidi (Blackish) and Charles Melton (Riverdale’s Reggie)), is something like wading through fields of pink candy floss and suddenly finding a speck of grit.
The grit is at the center of the story, based on the best-selling novel by Young Adult novelist, Nicola Yoon. It tells the story of a bi-racial teen relationship, threatened by the ruthless U.S. policy of expelling the children of undocumented immigrants.
The romantic impediment here of imminent deportation could easily substitute for, say, a potentially fatal disease - a favourite YA trope, used in Yoon’s first novel, Everything, Everything (which was also given the screen treatment in 2017).
But both stories have a basis in Yoon’s immigrant experience. She has said her first novel, about an excessively protective mother, reflected her anxiety as the mother of a bi-racial child.
The Sun Is Also A Star is also autobiographically inspired. Like the author, the character of Natasha (Shahidi) is a Jamaican-born black woman.
Meanwhile her romantic interest, Daniel (Melton), is, like Yoon’s illustrator husband David Yoon, an artistically-inclined Korean-American. In the movie, Daniel, wants to be a poet, while his immigrant parents are pushing him toward a medical career.
The script, by Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) follows the one-day romance genre of such films as Before Sunrise. Over the course of the day, Daniel has taken a day off school for an interview with a lawyer for a recommendation to get him into Dartmouth.
As coincidence would have it, Natasha, a Carl Sagan-worshipping nerd who tells her story in voice-over filled with astronomical allusions, has 24 hours to meet that same pro-bono nice-guy lawyer (John Leguizamo), who may help save her immigrant family from being deported to Jamaica. This, after her father, a kitchen worker, was arrested by an ICE agent.
Daniel, who is smitten when he spies Natasha gazing at the stars on the domed roof of Grand Central Station, follows her through the streets and, fortuitously, is near enough to save her from being hit by a fast-turning car.
The couple pick themselves up, exchange sparks and get down to negotiations: Science nerd, Natasha, insists that love is no more than a surge of hormones; Daniel, a romantic who believes in destiny, counters tha he can make her fall in love with him in one day by taking her on a romantic tour of New York. No points for guessing who wins.
Time, in the movie, though marked by rescheduled appointments and the deportation deadline, is governed by the romantic law that the clock slows down with the intensity of attraction.
Director Ry Russo-Young (Before I Fall, Nobody Walks) and cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw (Teen Spirit, Palo Alto) include aimless, twirling drone shots between the New York skyscrapers. Down on the pavement, the lovely couple meander, to the sound of burbling soft hip-hop tunes, through colourful neighbourhoods and New York tourist traps.
We visit The Planetarium, Greenwich Village, and the Statue of Liberty, golden-lit to suggest Lady Liberty is a woman of colour, and not just oxidized copper-green.
Other romantic elements here are wincingly conventional: When Daniel performs a flute-voiced, panting karaoke rendition of tremolo-drenched Tommy James hit, "Crimson and Clover", Nathasha’s brain locks into a fantasy reproductive montage: kiss, embrace, bridal dress, pregnancy, baby.
In keeping with its title, The Sun Is Also a Star (meaning that reality can also be poetic) balances the coincidence-riddled fantasy against a plausible backdrop of immigrants’ struggles. Apart from a single reference to “the current political climate,” it does this without ever feeling like an issue drama.
Instead, the benevolent universe beams its message that romantic escapism isn’t just for white people and, in time, all beautiful dreamers will be rewarded.
The Sun Is Also a Star. Directed by Ry Russo-Young. Written by Tracy Oliver, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon. Starring; Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton and John Leguizamo. The Sun Is Also a Star shows at the Cineplex Yonge-Dundas, Cineplex Queensway, Cineplex Vaughan and the Silvercity Richmond Hill theatres.