There’s a lot of talk about the Big Bang and Carl Sagan — even a literal planetarium scene — in The Sun Is Also a Star, but the most celestial thing about the movie by far is the two young actors at its center, Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton. They are luminous, incandescent; the glow that refracts off their confoundingly poreless skin is enough to light up a bodega, or at least a small vestibule.
They’re the kind of teenagers, in other words, that only exist onscreen, and their love story (based on the bestselling 2016 novel by Everything, Everything author Nicola Yoon) is the stuff of pure YA fantasy: no dragons or dire wolves, just destiny.
Black-ish‘s Shahidi is Natasha Kingsley, a high school junior about to be sent back to her parents’ native Jamaica, even though she’s spent more than half her life in New York City; Riverdale star Melton is Daniel Bae, a senior struggling to fulfill his immigrant parents’ dream that he’ll go to Dartmouth and become a doctor, when all he wants to do is write poetry.
She’s a skeptic with a secret love of astronomy; he’s a romantic who likes to lay around reading Walt Whitman while his abs ripple. Will these crazy kids ever come together?
Yes, about 10 minutes in, and Daniel promises her that it’s meant to be. He also swears he can make her fall in love with him in a day, though that’s less time than she has before she leaves the city forever. Reluctantly, she agrees to fit his love experiment in around her last-ditch efforts to save her family from deportation.
Cue a series of montage-ready activities, alternately sweet and excruciating, that strain the limits of Manhattan credulity. Ah yes, New York! The city where conductors mitigate 10-second subway delays by telling heartfelt stories about 9/11 over the public address system, and young people are safe to sleep in each other’s arms overnight in a public park, their iPhones and wallets somehow as undisturbed as their flawless bangs.
The leads are both charming and gorgeous to look at, but they can’t override the tooth-aching sincerity of the script, or the cardboard conflicts that propel it. Every demographic deserves their own ridiculous, wish-fulfilling romance; Sun just trades in too much silliness to ever really shine. C