No tour guide could hit as many sights as the two leads in "The Sun Is Also a Star."
During the course of a day, the two strangers manage to hit a planetarium, Roosevelt Island, Harlem, Grand Central Station, a karaoke bar and an office building, twice.
Even if they had a car they couldn’t manage that, but that doesn’t stop the two from falling in love and dealing with two crises.
Natasha (Yara Shahidi) is trying to get help from a pro bono lawyer to keep her family from being deported to Jamaica. Daniel (Charles Melton) is a frustrated poet who can’t tell his parents he doesn’t want to go to med school.
They meet when he notices her jacket – emblazoned “Deus Ex Machina,” a phrase he wrote in his notebook earlier in the day. He’s convinced it’s a sign and he has to meet her. Far more willing to do that than talk to a Dartmouth representative, he vows they can fall in love in a day. She bites but, come on. They’re both so incredibly attractive it’d take much more than a clichéd script to keep them apart.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young, “The Sun Is Also a Star” attempts at addressing social issues but they’re largely confined to moments in John Leguizamo’s office. If Natasha had been determined to stop the deportation, she would have started more than a day before it was scheduled to happen. Similarly, if Daniel had wanted to do something else with his life, he’d have said something to his parents before it came down to picking a good school.
Much of it doesn’t make sense, but that doesn’t stop Russo-Young from bathing the two in great light and giving them ample opportunity to spill out a lifetime of angst in a matter of hours.
Daniel makes a great case for a connection, even though this looks like they should have been at a casting call for models, not some random Grand Central Station encounter. Koreans, he explains, got in the black hair care business, thus his dad owns a store that handles everything from weaves to product. She meets his brother (Jake Choi) there and discovers there’s more than a little bad blood running through the hair store.
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Natasha’s parents, meanwhile, are convinced going back to Jamaica is the best thing.
Russo-Young doesn’t delve too deeply in that issue, except to suggest that times have changed.
What’s remarkable is how ready both are to jump into this relationship even though they don’t even think to exchange phone numbers. While watching the stars at the planetarium, you’d think they were on a senior skip day, not The Most Important Day of Their Lives.
Russo-Young uses plenty of music to heighten the drama and gives both a moment of anger to show they aren’t just good looking, they’re also good actors.
Had Melton not resembled swimmer Nathan Adrian and had Shahidi not had two television series on at the moment, some of this might wash.
Large chunks of “The Sun,” however, are photo ops, not scenes.
Both young actors have the potential to do more. They’ve just got to be more cautious about scripts that require less.
“The Sun Is Also a Star” rises on their looks but sets on the director’s inability to make this anything more than a Ralph Lauren ad, minus the great clothes.