“THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR” — 2½ stars — Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, Keong Sim; PG-13 (suggestive content and language); in general release; running time: 100 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of ingredients that go into a good romance, and “The Sun Is Also a Star” only checks a couple of boxes off the list.
Based on the Nicola Yoon novel, Ry Russo-Young’s “The Sun Is Also a Star” is a teen romance about a pair of high school seniors who fall in love over the course of an afternoon in New York City.
Yara Shahidi plays Natasha, a young woman who immigrated to New York with her family from Jamaica nine years earlier. Natasha loves “pure science” and aspires to be a data scientist, which she helpfully explains, is a scientist who studies data. Unfortunately, thanks to complications with the immigration process, Natasha and her family are about to be deported.
Daniel (Charles Melton) also comes from a family of immigrants. His parents run a hair product store that caters to African-Americans, and they are very intent on Daniel becoming a doctor. Daniel is applying to Dartmouth, and though he’s not sure he actually wants to be a doctor — his natural inclination is toward poetry — for now he’s playing along.
Daniel’s alumni interview is the same day as Natasha’s meeting at the immigration office, and they meet when Daniel saves Natasha from getting hit by a speeding BMW. For Daniel, their meeting is fate. For Natasha, it’s coincidence. For the audience, it’s because the screenplay really needs to tie all the threads together as closely as possible.
Because Daniel’s alumni meeting suddenly needs to be rescheduled, and Natasha has a few hours before a follow-up meeting with a lawyer who might be able to delay her family’s deportation, Daniel convinces Natasha to hang out with him for a few hours, confident that he can convince her to fall in love with him “scientifically.”
What follows is a twisting and turning love story set against a romanticized New York backdrop that pretty much behaves like that BMW. It really only takes Daniel about an hour before he charms Natasha into falling for him, at which point the will-they-won’t-they tension rests more with the immigration case (and, truth be told, Natasha’s feelings for Daniel seem to flip hot or cold based on the likelihood of her impending deportation more than a sense of true love).
To its credit, unlike a lot of movies in this genre, “The Sun Is Also a Star” goes to considerable lengths to develop both of its leads, even though Natasha’s voiceover narration technically makes her the protagonist. The film also looks fantastic, even among so many other movies shot against a Big Apple backdrop.
Unfortunately, “Also a Star” seems determined to use that pretty sheen — plus a lot of romantic montages — to disguise a host of story problems and issues, which become more and more obvious when you consider how such an encounter would play out in reality (for example: how many young women would feel comfortable ducking into a cheap dark karaoke room with a total stranger two hours after you met?).
Keep in mind also that Daniel and Natasha are supposed to be high school seniors, even though they both look and behave like they are in their mid-20s. The issues continue through the script, which pinballs from concept to concept, abandoning fundamental premises — such as the “scientific” courtship angle — when the story leads elsewhere.
Overall, “The Sun Is Also a Star” offers some pretty cinematography and a handful of heart-tugging one-liners, including one that drew an “aw” from about two-thirds of the theater. But Russo-Young’s film still falls far short of the kind of charm and chemistry that define so many great New York romances like “Moonstruck,” “When Harry Met Sally” or even “Serendipity,” which, while not a great movie, had a lot more fun with the fate vs. coincidence concept.
Sometimes a night in with a classic is better than a night out with a pretender.
Rating explained: “The Sun Is Also a Star” is rated PG-13 for occasional profanity (including a single use of the F-word), sensual content and some scenes of violence.