The Sun Is Also a Star movie review

In Nicola Yoon’s YA novel The Sun Is Also a Star (Delacorte, 2016), Natasha Kingsley and her family are a day from being deported to Jamaica after nine years living in New York City. Natasha is doing everything she can to get that decision overturned — and then she meets Daniel Jae Ho Bae. An intense romance is added to a day that’s already pretty intense. I remember thinking that the story called for some suspension of disbelief: for instance, wouldn’t Natasha be packing? And would she really have space in her mind and heart for someone new on such a difficult day? But I also remember being willing to suspend that disbelief. After all, there are plenty of whirlwind love stories in fiction (some more believable than others). And everyone deserves a chance to see themselves in sweep-you-up romances, including — maybe especially — people in not-so-fluffy situations. (Others, it seems, agree: check out all the book’s accolades, including its Horn Book Magazine starred review.)

The movie version (Warner Bros., May 2019; PG-13), which stars Yara Shahidi (Black-ish, Grown-ish) as Natasha and Charles Melton as Jae, came out last week, and Katie and I saw it on Friday night. The movie covers many of the book’s plot points. In addition to Natasha’s imminent departure (and her resistance to it), there’s significant tension within Daniel’s Korean American family about his college and career plans, as well as racial tension between them and Natasha. But there’s also lighter, rom-com-type content. They meet in a tangle-on-the-street moment when Daniel saves Natasha from being hit by a car (and by the way, his persistent pursuit is the sort of thing that’s passed off as “sweet” a little too often in fiction; perhaps a blog post for another day). There’s the challenge Daniel sets for himself: can he get practical Natasha to fall in love with him in just one day? There’s some flowery language that perhaps looks more believable on the page than it sounds coming out of actual young people’s mouths.

But the film, like the book, takes its characters seriously. And Shahidi is here serious enough that when she does break into a laugh, it means something. Melton is more of a joker, but not too much — just enough to show that Daniel knows he owes a huge debt of gratitude to destiny. The way the film is shot brings us close to various parts of New York City, helping us to understand what a loss leaving it will be for Natasha.

The novel does a lot of interesting work with point of view, sometimes jumping to the perspective of a character who seems like a bit player, or explaining the history of something that’s come up in the story, all to show how everything is connected. Though what the book does is beyond the movie’s scope, I was glad to see that the general concept is preserved. The book, for instance, has a brief chapter called “hair: A Korean American History,” and in the movie, Daniel narrates a montage giving historical context to how his Korean family came to own a store selling African American hair care products.

All in all, The Sun Is Also a Star is a difficult movie to categorize. But maybe it’s in a category of its own that could use a lot more stories.
Shoshana Flax
Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine, is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University. She is a current member of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee, and has served on the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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