To the Stars: Film Review

To the Stars

I wanted to give To the Stars a chance because I thought Kara Hayward was fantastic as Suzy Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom and Liana Liberato constantly gives great performances, and while they both delivered the goods in this coming-of-age story, the plot itself was misjudged and uneven.

Set in a small God-fearing town in 1960s Oklahoma, Hayward stars as Iris, who has a fraught relationship with her mother Francie (Jordana Spiro) and is taunted constantly at school because she still wets herself. That changes with the arrival of the charming and enigmatic Maggie (Liberato), who befriends both the popular girls and Iris and helps the latter come out of her shell. However, Maggie is hiding some big secrets of her own and when they begin to unravel, Iris needs to stand up for her friend and herself.

My issue with To the Stars is that it almost feels like two films. The vast majority of time focuses on Iris and her coming-of-age story and then it veers off into Maggie’s big moment and Iris is sidelined. Both girls had valid, interesting stories but the way they were combined into one movie didn’t really work. And I was blindsided by this switch in perspective because Maggie’s storyline wasn’t foreshadowed much so her revelation basically came out of nowhere. I had a feeling that’s what her big secret was but it wasn’t obvious and I would have liked more information about it and preferred the ending to have been less ambiguous. On Iris’ side, I really thought we were past giving nerds a makeover that involved them removing their glasses, so that element made me groan and roll my eyes, but thankfully, the glasses made a swift return.

Both Hayward and Liberato give impressive performances and make this slow-moving and quiet drama engrossing. They made me invest in their characters, so despite the narrative/structural issues I had, I still found Maggie’s storyline quite moving, while seeing Iris’ confidence blossom put a smile on my face. Shea Whigham is a notable face in the cast, but he is barely in it as Iris’ father, same for Malin Akerman and Tony Hale as Maggie’s parents. They are probably in two/three scenes each, maximum. They get to do some good work in their final emotional scene with Liberato, but Hale, who I know best for his comedy work, felt miscast. I didn’t believe him as that character at all.

To the Stars features a lovely uplifting story and a moving one but it just doesn’t know how to make them work together, but although the narrative is uneven, it is anchored by two impressive lead performances.

 Available for digital download from iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky, Virgin, Chili on Monday 1st June 

Rating: 3/5

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