Movies

The Sun Is Also A Star is a sweet love story marking the arrival of the YouTube generation to our big screens

The Sun Is Also a Star, an adaptation of a popular young adult novel about a doomed 24-hour romance between two New York teens, announces the arrival of the YouTube generation to our big screens. Yes, this story has been done to death, but what sets this version apart is how it reflects the values and aesthetic sensibilities of a generation of young people who’ve grown up online.

Daniel (Charles Melton), a high-school poet, believes fate is to thank for a chance encounter with Natasha (Yara Shahidi), a high-school scientist who sees love as nothing more than a hokum-filled explanation for a base human impulse. Nevertheless, she agrees to let Daniel try to prove her wrong: If, while traveling through the city together, he can make her fall for him, she’ll have proof that love is real. The clock is ticking on this experiment, however, because Natasha’s Jamaican-born family is set to be deported the next day.

Yes. Writing the concept out does make it seem ridiculous. But there’s more to it than that.

When we discuss youth and YouTube, we often talk about its more shady corners. However, The Sun Is Also a Star stems from the wholesome content from popular users like Casey Neistat, who create inspirational vlogs that mix testimonials and street photography. This particular synthesis of internet culture borrows cinematic narrative conventions, but injects them with the music queues, montage rhythms and intimate tone of vlogger culture. The online platform goes unmentioned, but it informs the look and feel of the film.

In a scene set at a Korean Karaoke joint, a character sings “Crimson and Clover.” With it’s flashing coloured lights and expressionistic montage style, it feels like a direct reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961 anti-musical Une femme est une femme, which has a similar scene. Godard once described a generation of young people in the 1960s as the “children of Marx and Coca Cola,” and there’s something undeniably timeless about youthful revolutionary energy. Pastiche remains a central tenant of audiovisual culture in 2019, so it doesn’t seem all that strange that a movie could be informed by both the French New Wave and YouTube.

There is even a Coca Cola can pressed against a character’s bruised lip. Marx, on the other hand, might be less obvious. The film prefers to focus on inclusive rather than revolutionary politics. While the story itself is very much about restrictive immigration policies under Donald Trump, he remains an unnamed boogeyman rather than a specific target in the film. There is a painful effort not to alienate anyone, even those who support the policies that would keep the star-crossed lovers apart.

The film’s earnestness is rooted in the deep, poreless beauty of its leads Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton. They struggle with the sappy dialogue, but they grow into their roles. The incontrovertible authenticity on display would be annoying if it wasn’t so charming. They are as good as they are beautiful, a classic Hollywood ploy that almost never fails to elicit envy and yearning.

For a movie so invested in the online culture, however, The Sun Is Also a Star is undone by the fact that the characters cannot connect via social media. It’s one of many contrivances of fate in a movie that seems pleasantly aware of its indulgences in the predictable. As long as you don’t think too much about it, it’s a forgivable misstep. As a whole, the film is a flawed but fascinating portrait of life as seen by young people who’ve come of age in the 21st century. It doesn’t say anything new but it reveals at least a sliver of hope that we all want a better tomorrow.

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