PLOT In New York City, a Jamaican girl on the eve of deportation falls for a stranger.
CAST Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton
RATED PG-13 (some language and sexual talk)
BOTTOM LINE A dull-witted romance that isn’t helped by its semi-topical premise.
Real-world politics and romantic drivel make a poor match in “The Sun Is Also a Star,” Ry Russo-Young’s adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young-adult novel. The story of an immigrant girl who spends her last day in America falling in love with a boy, “The Sun Is Also a Star” feels pretty hollow and trivial even for a lightweight romance. As for a commentary on the complicated issue of immigration, forget it.
The film’s heroine is Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi, ABC's "Black-ish"), a Jamaican teenager whose life in New York City ends with tomorrow’s deportation. She hasn’t given up, though: She skips school, visits the immigration office and comes away with a phone number for Jeremy Martinez (John Leguizamo), an attorney who offers to intervene.
Despite Natasha’s cliche-riddled opening voice-over (“the human heart,” “the path we choose”), we start out rooting for her. She was brought here as a child; now she must leave the country she loves. On her way to Martinez, she stops to gaze at the starry ceiling of Grand Central and catches the eye of Daniel Bae (Charles Melton, The CW's "Riverdale"). Reading the words emblazoned on Natasha's jacket — “Deus Ex Machina,” which he had written in his poetry journal that very morning — he’s smitten. He rushes after her and insists they will fall in love by day’s end.
Shahidi and Melton are two darn gorgeous actors — she’s a ringlet-haired beauty with pillowy lips, he a chiseled type with insouciant-yet-soulful charm — but their roles are as plain as cardboard. Natasha's ideas about rational science and illogical emotions are juvenile; Daniel's desire to write poetry instead of becoming a doctor to please his Korean-American family feels like a very worn-out story. Whatever fuzzy-wuzzies we start to feel can be mostly chalked up to the romantic backdrop of New York City.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” is filled with lines of quasi-poetry — the title is a good example — that never really seem germane to anything that’s happening. (The screenplay is by Tracy Oliver, of “Girls Trip.”) Notions of home, family and country are barely touched upon, while arguments about destiny vs. coincidence apply in only the most generic, all-purpose way.
As for the phrase “Deus Ex Machina” (a plot device where an unexpected power or event resolves a seemingly hopeless situation), nobody ever explains why it’s on Natasha’s jacket. Like a lot of things in this movie, it isn’t really that meaningful at all.