There hasn’t been a satisfying young adult romance movie in so long, it’s easy to forget what they’re like. Last summer, Netflix gave us the wonderful To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before among others, but they belonged specifically to the romcom genre. The Sun Is Also a Star, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon (who also wrote Everything, Everything), is refreshing because it’s about a budding young romance between two people of color and, as a bonus, doesn’t involve the trope of one or both of them being terminally ill. It also navigates the world of first generation immigrants, the fear of deportation in the current political climate, and the pressures of succeeding to make your parents proud.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young (Before I Fall, which you should see) with a screenplay by Tracy Oliver, The Sun Is Also a Star is effectively developed and even its most saccharine moments are lovely and well-handled. The story follows Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), a Jamaican-born resident whose family has one day left in New York City before they’re deported back to Jamaica. Refusing to give up hope, Natasha meets with an immigration social worker who says he can’t do anything to help before caving and sending her to a lawyer (John Leguizamo).
On her way there, she meets Daniel Bae (Charles Melton)–rather, he sees her at Grand Central Station and, completely taken by her, ends up saving her from being hit by a car. More than anything, he believes their meeting is fate. Natasha, on the other hand, isn’t convinced and declares love to be nothing more than hormones. Daniel becomes bold and asks her permission to convince her that love and fate are very real. All he needs is one day. Natasha gives him an hour, but of course they end up spending the entire day together anyway, learning about each other and working through Natasha’s attempts to stay in the U.S., as well as Daniel’s own family drama.
The film is incredibly genuine and heartwarming. Charles Melton and Yara Shahidi have fantastic chemistry and, though Melton’s character is beyond perfect, the film hits its notes, sappy as they are, just right. The delivery of the moments and dialogue are often what keep the film from flying off into complete fantasy, though it still offers an escapism despite its tackling of reality. The Sun Is Also a Star is schmoopy fluff at its best, elevated greatly by Melton and Shahidi’s performances, and it’s in the stillness that allows these characters space to connect on a deeper level so that their 24 hours together never feel contrived or empty. There’s a fluidity that flows through the film and every moment is deliberate and thoughtful. It’s easy to get lost watching Daniel and Natasha banter, flirt, and dream of a better, more hopeful tomorrow. Their romance is charming and wholesome, beautiful and wonderfully sweet. The film will melt your heart with its good-natured spirit and sentimentality.
Russo-Young captures the spirit of young love while also making New York City as much a part of the film’s essence. Shots of the city grace the screen, serving as a nice transition between scenes. If you’ve ever been to NYC, you know the city is constantly on the move. People are always walking by, laughing, talking, listening. It has a distinct energy. The diversity of their backgrounds, their faces, and their lives all provide a silent nod to the fact that NYC (and the U.S. at large) would be nothing without such a population, all of whose families immigrated to the U.S. at some point in time and made it their home. The sounds of their voices, of taxis driving by, of food being made all work to create a soundtrack of daily city life.
The movie also touches upon anti-blackness within the Asian community, even though the store Daniel’s family owns caters to Black women. The Sun Is Also a Star even takes the time for a brief, but very interesting history lesson explaining how a South Korean family came to own such a store. One scene in particular works as an example of how racism can manifest in even the smallest, but blatant of ways and what Black women have to deal with on a consistent basis, especially where their hair is concerned.
The Sun Is Also a Star deals in tough situations with a strong helping of hopefulness and fate. It has the potential to derail quite often (talking too much about fate and destiny can do that), but the flames don’t die and the film carries its themes quite proudly. Even when times are hardest for Natasha and she can’t see her way out of a difficult situation, the film and its central relationship remind us there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even if things don’t work out the way she’d hoped. The movie is befitting of the times we currently live in. As a romance film, it’s extremely soft and endearing, delicately executed and boasted by its lead performances and thoughtful directing.