‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ exceeded any expectations I had. When the book was first released there was a lot of hype, and I tend to wait and read later without any influence to sway my opinion. But I had to get a move on with the release of the film adaptation. I wanted to read the novel before its release to avoid another lengthy wait for the hype to go down… and avoid spoilers.
‘The Sun is Also a Star’ novel is a contemporary narrated in alternating points of view between teens Natasha, a Jamaican native, grown up in New York about to be deported; and Daniel, a Korean-American with ‘tiger’ parents pushing him towards a Yale application and becoming a doctor, despite his passion for poetry. We also get the occasional factoid chapter around physics, science, or a side characters perspective/history/future. While all of these elements are present in the film, and because of the omnipresent nature of movies the story flowed much easier from scene to scene. And the cinematography was beautiful. One of the drawbacks of the film was that it eliminated a number of characters from the narrative which hindered the whole interconnectedness/universal fate theme that runs through ‘The Sun is Also a Star.’ Some of those secondary characters added something to the story too – and leaving them out of the film to focus solely on the two romantic leads (Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton) left the movie feeling like most other romances out there. Also the novel had enough time and space to develop a strong emotional connection with and between the characters – it did not feel as strong in the film.
We see social issues of interracial relationships, racism (and typecasting), immigration (both legal and illegal), mixed in with identity, and coming of age all at that tender age where the world flips on its head – graduation of high school. It was a hot-bed of themes and issues to create a passionate contemporary. I don’t know if it’s just me but many of these hot-button issues did not resonate as strongly with me from the film; which is strange considering a visual medium can usually drag out a lot more pain. I think maybe the producers wanted to keep a lighter tone and focus on the romance.
The pacing did not lag anywhere in this novel – which is high praise for contemporary. Usually they are introspective, symbolic, and take some time to build. ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ set the stakes high straight away and kept the pressure on until the end. The pacing in the film by comparison was good, but a little slower. Maybe because the angst did not translate as strongly. Maybe I connected with Nicola Yoon’s writing style better than the tone of the movie?
We also get a pizza slice of the New York landscape. Coffee shops, record stores, the tourist strip, the corporate buildings – it was an almost magical depiction of the city as seen through the eyes of our protagonists. It was just as vibrant in the film as it was in the novel. Rotating wide shots, beautiful colour grading, and sultry close ups added atmosphere. You get some muted tones throughout to make other colours pop, and many shots had unfocused edges to draw the eye to the principal part of the scene. Brilliantly done.
On a side note – the movie soundtrack is pretty cool too!
The family dynamics of both Daniel and Natasha are also a great peek into how POC are depicted, and how their culture shape their behaviour. I will say the novel depicted more of a stereotypical version in compared to the film. But it was intentional in the book to illustrate a socio-political view. It was softened in the film – and successfully – I feel it may have come off a bit mirco-aggression-y without that tweak.
I did find the ending typical of contemporaries, that ‘what if’ moment, leaving the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens after the last page. But it does this with an unexpected flair and twist that I enjoyed. The film’s conclusion felt – cute- it lost the impact of the novel (again due to the cuts from characters/loss of angst.) I liked it, but nothing I would rave about. The film teased the novels ending but then went in a different direction.
One theme that is strongly resonating throughout is that we are made up of the same molecules as the universe, proving that everything is connected. It pushes this further by playing with fate, predetermination, and how universal forces follow an order about things. I found it poetic. Sometimes it can be cliché, but the novel ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ managed to pull it off with sophistication. The film did have this undercurrent, but it felt more like a story of love and fate. Like the universe will always open a door for your to find your one true love. A great concept, but less grand in stature to the novels theme. At least it didn’t come off as cheesy.
The novel is definitely superior to the film, but I’d recommend both.
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