Director: Scott Speer
Cast: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard, Nicholas Coombe, Suleka Matthew
MPAA Rating: (for some teen partying and sensuality)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 3/23/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 22, 2018
One moment in Midnight Sun genuinely captures the feeling of young love. It's not the first time the soon-to-be couple meets in the movie, when the teenage girl is so flustered by the sudden appearance of the guy on whom she has a crush that she awkwardly runs away from him. It's not the second time, either, when there's more awkwardness but the promise of a date in the near future.
It's the third time, as the guy arrives at a party and the girl walks out with a group of people to meet him. As their eyes lock, the girl moves just a bit to the side of her companions, in a sidestep that's graceful enough that it doesn't seem staged. The camera follows her, and the scene proceeds to cut between the now sooner-to-be lovers, simply looking at each other. There is nothing else in the world for them in this momentójust that look.
It's so simple, yet the moment stands out in a movie featuring far more elaborate gestures and many more melodramatic moments. It's because of the scene's simplicity and sharp focus on the unspeakable impact of the moment. Here, simply, are two people who don't have much in their lives figured out, but at least, they think, they have figured out this one thing.
The rest of the movie, which follows the star-crossed romance between these two characters, never finds a plot, a scene, or even another moment that matches this one. It's another attempted weeper of a story about finding love in the midst of a terrible disease, meaning that there's really only one way that it's going to end. The tissues the studio provided for the audience at the screening could have been considered a spoiler of sorts. Then again, in the moment that our main character explains that and how she's sick, the movie pretty much announces how all of this is going to end.
Katie (Bella Thorne) has xeroderma pigmentosum, which she and everyone who knows her refers to as XP, even to people who have no idea what it is. It's a real genetic disorder, which affects the body's ability to recover to the damage of UV rays, but it's one that's rare enough, apparently, for screenwriter Eric Kirsten to use for exploitative tear-jerking purposes and to fudge with the symptoms. In Kirsten's favor, the movie is a remake of a 2006 Japanese movie called TaiyŰ no uta, which was never released in the U.S., so it's not as if it was his idea.
She has to spend the day behind the special, sun-blocking windows of her house. There's the occasional visit to the doctor (The movie never explains how she gets from the house to the car to the clinicóbut whatever), but otherwise, she only goes out at night. Usually, it's to the local train station, where she plays guitar and sings for strangers.
The guy is Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), whom Katie has watched passing by her window every day for about a decade. She has fallen hard for Charlie, even though she has never spoken to him and has only seen him from a distance. When he shows up the train station one night, Charlie is curious why he has never seen around town before.
At this point, the story can be summed up by the interactions detailed in the first paragraph. The important point is that Katie refuses to tell Charlie about her condition. There's some unexpected wisdom to her character here. She's not afraid of losing Charlie if he learns the truth. She simply doesn't want to be looked at as a disease. Instead, they go out on dates at night, with Katie saying that she's "busy" during the day, and the relationship seems to be progressing with ease and promise. As one might expect, this doesn't last for long.
In movies such as this, our involvement is really at the mercy of the performers, as well as the movie's ability to find a good balanceóbetween authentic sweetness and eye-rolling treacle, between feasible melodrama and irritating contrivance, between a real appreciation for love and the phony Hollywood version of it. Thorne and Schwarzenegger are fine enough. There's nothing special about either one's performance or the chemistry between them.
They're not enough to overcome the movie's clunky moments, such as an impromptu song on a Seattle pier (which brings a surprising number of spectators to clap along to Katie's on-the-nose pop music) or a sequence that literally has Katie trying to outrun the sunrise. It's tough to tell if the movie's climax, which provides Katie a chance to die by means of a romantic gesture, is to the movie's credit or detriment.
There are some good moments here, mainly between Katie and her father Jack (Rob Riggle), who lost his wife to a car accident when Katie was a child and is living with the constant knowledge that his daughter is going to die before her time, too. Mainly, though, Midnight Sun is the sort of saccharine, tragic romance that both draws out the inevitable and dodges the reality of terminal illness.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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