Early in The Sun is Also a Star, a character puts on a jacket that reads on the back “Deus Ex Machina”, while another character writes it down in his notebook of poetry. For anyone who isn’t familiar with that phrase, its Latin for “god from the machine”. It’s often used in movies as a cheap way out of an otherwise inescapable situation, usually shrugged off as coincidence within the movie. Whether it’s Batman’s utility belt with all the right gadgets or the aliens in Signs being allergic to water, a deus ex machina is always there to save the day for the sake of advancing the plot.
In The Sun is Also a Star, based on the young adult novel by Nicola Yoon, our two leads meet through coincidence, ironically thanks to that famous (and sometimes infamous) Latin phrase. Natasha Kingsley is the one wearing the jacket in this case. She is on her way to the immigration office in a last ditch effort to persuade a lawyer to let her family stay in New York City and not be deported to Jamaica. Daniel Bae, meanwhile, is at Grand Central Station, seeing the jacket with the words he wrote in his notebook. He knows this must be fate, and follows her out of the station. He gets her to talk by saving her from a fast car rounding the corner.
Everything about their meeting and their parallels is all chalked up to fate in Daniel’s eyes. To Natasha, however, her passion for science makes her shrug it off as coincidence. These conflicting ideologies were my main problem with the movie. The movie couldn’t decide whether it wants to be cute and say “it’s written in the stars” or have it be coincidence that these two meet. The only way to really break it down is look at the perspectives of the two leads.
Natasha is played by Yara Shahidi, and she starts off as the more interesting of the two. She has a passion for science and wants to go to college to be a chemist. She doesn’t really believe in love because it can’t be observed by the scientific formula. She represents the people who believe more in coincidence, which she mentions through the first half of the movie. She works hard to get to the immigration office and fight for a chance to stay in the country with her family.
Daniel, meanwhile, is played by Charles Melton. He has a lot of charisma to go around, making Natasha say “I wish I could bottle up your confidence and sell it. I would make a shit ton of money.” His family wants him to be a doctor but he has passions that make him go a different direction. He belongs to the people who believe in fate and the power of the universe, which is fine if you believe in that. Personally, I don’t.
When the two meet, they don’t hit it off so well. Their conflicting thoughts make for interesting chemistry between the two and it was this part of the movie that had me the most interested. The cynic versus the romantic. It’s not the first time this has been done in movies, but I thought it was done fairly well in the first half. They have a small date (she doesn’t want to call it a date, however, I only say it for lack of a better term) at a planetarium where she gives in to his charming outlook on life.
My favorite scene is hinted at in the trailer. Daniel and Natasha go to a karaoke bar and she daydreams about the future as he sings the classic “Crimson and Clover”. She imagines them getting married and having a child together, only for reality to kick in and tell her she has an appointment with another lawyer. The following day, Daniel has an appointment with the same lawyer for his Dartmouth interview. Is it coincidence or is it fate? The movie wants it to be the latter, but my cynical mind never wavered. I knew it was coincidence.
Going back briefly to the “deus ex machina” discussion, I was dreading that some sort of hidden document would save Natasha’s family from being deported. I was surprised that they got deported anyway because they really tried to hammer in the idea that the universe is always there for you and things happen for a reason. Her narration goes on to tell us that her and Daniel drifted apart following her deportation. This felt very natural and realistic. This ending is quickly undone by a “Five Years Later…” title card that brings Natasha back to New York for a day in the coffee shop where she and Daniel spent time together. And guess who’s reading poems during an open mic session?
The Sun is Also a Star presents two schools of thought and is unable to decide what it wants to settle for. If they wanted to go the realist route, like how Natasha is, they would’ve ended it with her being back in Jamaica and the two slowly drifting apart. Instead, it tries to take Daniel’s side and tacks on this happy ending like they were meant to be together. The script, though corny at times, did provide the two leads some solid chemistry. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, or maybe the book is better than the movie, I’m not sure. I just wish the story could make up its mind on what it wanted to be about.
The Sun is Also a Star is now in theaters worldwide.