By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
30+ age rating:
16+ age rating:
“The Sun Is Also a Star” is the film adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s 2016 young adult novel of the same name, about two young strangers who fall in love in the course of a day — the hitch being that one of them is set to be deported at the end of the day. The film follows protagonist Natasha Kinsley, a Jamaican-born high school junior who has been in the United States with her family for nine years, and her love interest Daniel Bae, a Korean American wannabe poet, but one getting parental pressure to become a doctor.
While author Yoon is American and has never faced deportation, her own life sort of mirrors the protagonists culturally—her family is Jamaican and her husband David Yoon comes from a Korean family. The way that the movie touches on cultural strife but also celebrates the nuances of the two protagonists’ immigrant backgrounds feels authentic and lived-in—that was the best part of the movie.
The worst part of the movie, for me, was that it was incredibly boring.
I probably checked my phone—against the stated rules of movie theater etiquette and at risk of someone behind me telling me off for it—like, 40 times during the course of the movie because I just wanted it to be over.
I also found the movie overly gushy and grossly romantic because I am cynical and I don’t think people can or should fall in love in a day because like, is that even enough time to learn that someone is not a psychopath? It was hard for me to listen to long-winded dialogue on fate and destiny woven in between pontifications on the sun. It was hard for me to listen to Natasha talk really broadly and really symbolically about the theory of the multiverse because it was like, I don’t think she’s in AP physics, man. It was hard for me to take Daniel’s poetry seriously because his handwriting is so crazy, and he uses a calligraphy pen to passionately write stuff like “deus ex machina” in his special well-worn notebook.
Like, it was a lot, guys.
It was hard for me to watch the two super attractive leads, Yara Shahidi (Black, Persian) and Charles Melton (Korean and white), do a lot of symbolically lit kissing in front of sun flares—because while they were doing that, Nathasha’s parents are preparing for their family’s deportation to Jamaica the next day, and they are also wondering where their freaking daughter is because she still needs to pack her crap on top of letting her worried parents know that she is not dead.
I just wasn’t down with the romance because I’m a curmudgeon that wanted to yell this at the screen: “CALL YOUR PARENTS. THEY ARE WORRIED ABOUT YOU AND THINK YOU ARE DEAD. THEY ARE PROBABLY CALLING HOSPITALS AND POLICE STATIONS RIGHT NOW, SELFISH. YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS BECAUSE YOU HAVE 100 MISSED CALLS FROM YOUR MOM, OH MY GOD.”
But see, the thing is that I don’t think this movie was made for people like me, a 30-something adult woman who spends a lot of time price-comparing avocados at Costco versus everywhere else.
I think this movie is made for younger people — particularly young women of color — who are craving to see themselves and the issues that they are contending with rendered on-screen.
This movie depicts an interracial couple and certain interesting cultural beats. His Korean family owns a Black hair care store. His brother (played by Jake Choi) is the tattooed black sheep of the family because he is a mooch. They are pretty terrible and anti-Black when they meet Natasha. That stuff felt real.
On the flip side, Natasha is under threat of being sent back to a country that she has no emotional ties to. She comes across as very American, from her clothes to her accent to her concerns and her aspirations in life. Her parents are very hard-working and industrious — and just made a mistake and had the life deck stacked a little against them.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” tamely and sterilely brings up this larger political debate on immigration and puts a face to it — and while the depiction is pretty simplistic, it’s also pretty cool that it exists. Because how many romantic popcorn flicks aspire to do this?
Also, shoutout to the leads, Shahidi and Melton. They both worked so hard selling their characters’ love. They have good chemistry. They spend a scene in a karaoke room, smoldering at each other—I put up with it just because it was just cool to see a noraebang in a movie.
And if you’re worried about Melton being half-white—dude, so was I! But it’s cool. He actually passes pretty well as full-Korean. He speaks a little bit of Korean in the movie.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” is out in theaters right now.
Stacy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.