In “The Sun Is Also a Star,” protagonist Daniel Bae explains to his new-found crush the five elements needed for love. His final necessity is “the X-factor,” and when she inquires what that is he responds, “Don’t worry -- we have it.”
I can’t give any better definition than this of the mysterious chemistry that makes love work on-screen; but I agree with Daniel: They have it. And so does this movie.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much else.
Based on Nicola Yoon’s acclaimed 2016 novel, the film follows two Manhattan teens who meet when he saves her from being hit by a car. Instantly smitten, he pursues a relationship, which she resists because A) she doesn’t believe in all that touchy-feely stuff; and B) her immigrant family is set to be deported the very next day. She gives him an hour to prove that love-at-first-sight can succeed.
Reviews from critics and ordinary viewers have been lukewarm at best, and I can see why. “The Sun Is Also a Star” has too much goopy gunk about destiny and fate that wants to be profound but is ultimately just sophomoric: disjointed, predictable, sometimes silly and not at all convincing.
It also has some inexplicably self-conscious photography -- fuzzy focus, deliberate glare, tilting camera, whizzing 360s -- that does nothing but distract our attention.
Yet the two young leads -- Charles Melton (part Korean) and Yara Shahidi (part Iranian, part African-American) -- have boatloads of charisma; Melton in particular, with his heart-throb looks and winsome persistence, really wins us over to the blossoming relationship. The knowledge that it may last only a single day gives an urgency to the proceedings, fleshing out the movie’s overt message that we must cherish every moment because life goes by so fast.
John Leguizamo, the only other performer with more than a bit part, lends gravitas and conviction to his few scenes.
Best of all, the ending didn’t go where I expected; I was frankly glued to the screen and even went so far as to shout advice at one of the lovers. Since I’m supposed to be a rational and objective critic, that’s pretty unusual for me. But after waffling through the first half, I suddenly found myself committed and couldn’t look away -- even to the point of ignoring some laughably gigantic plot-holes in the final scenes.
Perhaps I liked it more than others because I haven’t read the book, which is supposed to be terrific; but I suspect this film will satisfy much of its teen target audience.
And maybe a few aging critics, as well.
“The Sun Is Also a Star,”
directed by Ry Russo-Young
Run time: 100 mins.
* * * (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language