Greetings again from the darkness. Taking star-crossed lovers to a new dimension, director Ry Russo-Young (BEFORE I FALL, 2017) presents Nicola Yoon’s best-selling YA novel as a traditional love-at-first-sight romance augmented with contemporary twists and issues. Tracy Oliver (GIRLS TRIP, 2017) adapted the story for the screen and enhances the familiar trope with racial, cultural, economic and political aspects – resulting in a romance meant to both charm and influence. If only those enhancements had played a larger role, this little film might really have had something to say.
The film certainly succeeds with its charm. Yara Shahidi (“Black-ish”) and Charles Melton (“Riverdale”) star as Natasha and Daniel, respectively. These are two beautiful young people blessed with electric smiles to complement their great hair and world class cheek bones. She is a Jamaican immigrant and a scientific prodigy as a high school junior, whereas he is a first generation U.S. born Korean who writes poetry while prepping for his Dartmouth admission interview. His family long ago christened him as the one who would be doctor.
Loosely based on the courtship of author Nicola Yoon and her husband, even the meet-cute for Natasha and Daniel has a theme: Deus Ex Machina – God from the Machine, where magical powers or destiny bring the two together. Not only does Natasha wear a jacket with the Latin phrase, but the conductor on Daniel’s subway even counsels the delayed passengers to “Open up your heart to destiny.” OK, by now you know if this is your type of movie or not. I would offer a mild caution to naysayers with this – Natasha and Daniel are fun to watch as they get to know each other, and there are some breath-taking shots of New York City interspersed throughout the film courtesy of cinematographer Autumn Durald. These two things make the film watchable no matter how deep your allergy to cuteness runs, although the tour of NYC sometimes has the feel of (a well photographed) tourist brochure.
The political side of the story comes courtesy of Natasha’s ‘last hope’ meeting at the immigration office to postpone her family’s deportation scheduled for the next day. We only get to see quick glimpses of the process, but it’s enough to understand the red tape she has tried to maneuver in order to keep her family in NYC after 9 years. More of immigration attorney John Leguizamo would have contributed a bit of substance to the film. The immigration topic is also broached in Daniel’s family as his parents came to the country and started their own business. The American Dream giveth and taketh away. The immigration bits work as plot devices, but the film is most comfortable as a story of star-crossed lovers accompanied by “Crimson and Clover” in a karaoke bar. However the film’s biggest mystery might be how the couple survived sleeping all night in a New York park without getting mugged or even needing to brush their teeth before their crucial meetings. The magic of love.