Couple's race against time and culture

REVIEW / ROMANTIC DRAMA

THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR (PG13)

94 minutes/Opens today/3 stars

The story: Natasha (Yara Shahidi) is a Jamaican-born woman whose family is facing deportation from the United States the next day. She meets Korean-American Daniel (Charles Melton). Their attraction to each other must be put aside while she sets about overturning the deportation, but he convinces her that in the short time they have, he can make her fall in love with him. Based on the 2016 New York Times best-selling novel of the same name, by Nicola Yoon.

This story takes a familiar idea - two people fall in love as the clock counts down to the time they must part - but with the added twist of personal and family expectations working against them.

Young-adult romances embrace the notion of the ticking clock, usually in the form of a terminal illness, family dysfunction or impending separation.

It is that threat of separation that spurs the need for romantic closure for the couple in Yoon's novel, but instead of setting the story in Anytown, United States, featuring a cast of white, middle-class, high school students dealing with the usual teen issues, Yoon's story is uniquely specific about race, culture and the environment.

Shahidi's Natasha is black, science-obsessed and a pragmatist. Melton's Daniel is Korean-American, pushed into the scholastic rat race but yearning to be a poet. Both live in New York City, with lives marinated in the city's patchwork of ethnic enclaves.

 
 

When one thinks of Manhattan or the boroughs on film, the standard images come to mind - Chinatown, Times Square, brownstones.

Director Ry Russo-Young avoids Big Apple porn, opting for the low-key realism of the city's less-photographed tower blocks and immigrant neighbourhoods.

That realism, however, is tempered by the glamour exuded by Natasha and Daniel. Their lower-middle-class immigrant selves are filmed with the heightened colours and dynamic movement of a fashion product.

In fact, the look of the film - racially ambiguous models, urban setting, graffiti walls, subways, rapid edits and a driving soundtrack - is that of a 90-minute advertisement.

The film is most interesting when it is at its least overtly romantic. Daniel's puppy-like gushiness is a bit much and while Natasha might be smitten with his lack of inhibition, her character would gain an immense shot of realism if she rolled her eyes more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Couple's race against time and culture'. Print Edition | Subscribe