Astronomy meets chemistry in “The Sun Is Also a Star,” a young-adult romance whose creaky coincidences almost overshadow the charming leads at its heart.
The source material here is a novel by Nicola Yoon, whose girl-in-the-bubble romance “Everything, Everything” was turned into a movie two years ago. That’s a sign of the level of contrivance — high — we’re dealing with.
Natasha Kingsley (played by “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” star Yara Shahidi) is a high-school student fascinated with astrophysics, who can quote Carl Sagan in the opening voiceover and thinks love is just biochemical processes. She doesn’t have time for romance, either, as her family is going to be deported back to Jamaica tomorrow, unless she can find a lawyer who can save the day. This may seem unlikely, but we’re talking about a girl whose jacket says “Deus ex Machina” across the back.
Those are also the words Daniel Bae (played by Charles Melton, Reggie on The CW’s “Riverdale”) writes in his notebook when he wakes up the same morning. Daniel has a big day ahead, capped by his alumni interview to get into Dartmouth to be a pre-med student, following the path his Korean-born parents set out for him. Daniel’s desire to be a poet rather than a doctor is a minor consideration.
It takes a chance encounter, in which Daniel saves Natasha’s life, that starts their story in motion. In spite of their other commitments, they end up spending a too-beautiful New York day together. And if you don’t think they fall in love before we’re done, you haven’t seen the trailer or watched a romance movie in your life.
That said, the script by Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) takes some unexpected detours. Most interestingly, it confronts the race issue in an odd way, when Daniel takes Natasha to his family’s business, a black hair-care supply store in Harlem.
Director Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”) is at her sharpest in the movie’s first half, when Natasha and Daniel are left to walk through a gorgeously photographed New York and talk. It’s like a teen version of “Before Sunrise,” until the filmmakers lose their nerve and succumb to the many coincidences in Yoon’s plot line.
To the extent “The Sun Is Also a Star” works, it’s due to the lived-in but passionate chemistry between its stars. Melton smolders in a way that will make 14-year-old girls worldwide swoon. And Shahidi is a star in the making, bringing warmth and fire to Natasha’s family issues and this unexpected romantic entanglement.
‘The Sun Is Also a Star’
Opens Friday, May 17, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. Running time: 100 minutes.