In The Sun is Also a Star, an impulsive young man bets a young woman he can make her fall in love with him in just a day.
He has the heart of a poet, and we know this not just because he says so all the time, but because director Ry Russo-Young opens her movie with a shot of Daniel (Charles Melton) in his bedroom, as the camera pans around to show us his influences: Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Tupac.
The camera also shows us his abs, but The Sun is Also a Star is that kind of movie, based on the Nicola Yoon YA novel, and designed to produce swooning among a target audience of people who want to believe that fate has something in store for them, and it’s exquisitely sensitive and gorgeous.
Like the hunky Daniel, who spots his complete stranger soul mate Natasha (Yara Shahidi) at Grand Central Station, and notices her because she’s looking up at the astronomical designs on the ceiling. Natasha is a budding scientist, and wants to study data analysis in college.
Daniel discovers all this when he chases her down on the subway, introduces himself, and dares her scientific mind to embrace the possibility of love at first sight. Natasha is skeptical, and there is another issue: Her Jamaican family is about to be deported.
In fact, she’s on her way to a Hail Mary meeting with an immigration attorney (John Leguizamo), which happens to be in the same building where Daniel is to have his Dartmouth alumni interview.
This is fate affirming his ideas of destiny, Daniel declares, and Natasha is willing to consider the possibility that there is enough order in the universe to permit this, especially if the fellow making the pitch is nice-looking.
And so begins the movie’s chronicle of Daniel’s time-sensitive campaign to woo Natasha, as she works out her family’s legal issues and he wrestles with how to tell his striving, Korean immigrant parents that he wants to be a poet (gasp!), not a physician (the movie inexplicably implies that it is not possible to study poetry at Dartmouth).
Much rides on the actors’ ability to connect as they brush aside the obvious credibility obstacles, and the movie’s pop genericism doesn’t help — half the movie’s running time feels like it’s a pop music montage of the fetching young couple kissing, nuzzling, holding hands, so it often feels less like an ad for Invisaline.
Commercial elements interfere with the movie’s desire to present a New York romance that visits different corners of the city. Yoon drew from her own experience as a Jamaican American married to a Korean American, and Sun feels like a missed opportunity to explore the specificity of that in more detail, and with fewer conventions.
Manhattan is ready, in so many ways, for a new chapter. When the couple in Sun greets the dawn in a public park, and the teenage girl rubs the sleep from her eyes, it’s nice to know that man next to her is not Woody Allen.
The Sun Is Also a Star. Directed by Ry Russo-Young. With Charles Melton, Yara Shahidi, and John Leguizamo. Distributed by MGM.
Parents’ guide: PG-13 (some suggestive content and language)
Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.