If Richard Linklater made a junior version of “Before Sunrise,” it might look like “The Sun Is Also a Star,” in which two teens meet and have only one day in which to fall in love before they go their separate ways. Based on a novel by Nicola Yoon (who also wrote “Everything, Everything”) and directed by Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”), this is a respectable, earnest, down-to-earth romantic drama, not the crazy Nicholas Sparks kind.
It’s a bit of a love letter to the melting pot of New York City, too, with its teeming millions and their randomly intersecting lives. Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), a worried, analytical Jamaican girl who has lived here since early childhood, is about to be deported with her family — TOMORROW! — unless she finds a lawyer who can finagle a last-minute reprieve. Daniel Bae (Charles Melton), a romantic poet born in the U.S. to Korean parents, is on his way to an interview for admission to Dartmouth. He meets Natasha when he prevents her from being hit by a car (this is how 75% of New York couples meet) and is instantly smitten. She doesn’t believe in love because you can’t prove it scientifically, but she gives Daniel an hour to make his case.
Daniel believes (and the movie agrees) that their meeting was destiny. He absent-mindedly jotted the phrase “deus ex machina” in his notebook this morning; Natasha’s jacket is emblazoned with the same message. The immigration lawyer she’s on her way to meet works in the same building as the Dartmouth alumnus Daniel is seeing. More examples pop up, more coincidences that the movie readily acknowledges are improbable — but that’s how you know it’s fate, because these coincidences would never happen otherwise. You see the logic of it, especially if you’re a person who believes in romance, kismet, and/or a higher power. Natasha may not believe in any of those things, but she starts to like Daniel anyway..
The charismatic leads share narration duty, so we learn about their families’ histories (including how South Koreans came to dominate the black-haircare industry), adding color to the periphery of the story. A few lines of dialogue referencing how the immigration situation is complicated “especially lately” and “in the current political climate” are as close as the film gets to taking a stance beyond the basic teen-romance position that two good-looking people who like each other shouldn’t be separated. Daniel and Natasha are cute together, if not exactly bursting with chemistry. It all hangs together fairly well, with a mature, emotionally satisfying resolution.
B- (1 hr., 40 min.; )