Stargirl (2020)

“You’re just not making sense.”

Quirky to the nth degree and far too twee for its own juvenile good, Stargirl makes sure to squeeze in every single cliché associated with the often contrived and congested “coming of age” subgenre. Personally, I’ve never believed in defining a film that way; it just feels so limited in scope. Some folks become adults before they can drive, some are in tandem with first getting behind the wheel, and for others it’s long after they’ve already inhabited the adult world. Because of that, Stargirl is a victim of its own tired devices, and it’s one of the least grounded films I’ve seen this year. It’s hard to teach teens how to grapple with reality when the untethered head and heart of the picture both float around in the clouds. I didn’t buy a single second of it.

The setup here has been done before, and done quite better at that. Everything starts with Leo (Graham Verchere), an isolated and closed off young man with just enough friends to occupy a cafeteria table. He plays the trumpet in band, eats dinner with his widowed Mom (Darby Stanchfield), and holds onto the few precious memories he had with his Dad, through music and through curious style choices. That’s all thoroughly and efficiently communicated to us during the story’s introduction, eventually segueing into the tropes you expect from any uninspired movie involving high school. Leo makes life easier for himself by trying to fit in and to become one with the walls of the halls he walks and the desks he sits at. He’s more than fine being a nobody until he sees somebody standing outside the fence during band practice. She burns brighter than most.

Her name is Stargirl Caraway (Grace VanderWaal, whose dynamic turn here should be enough to jump-start crossover appeal for the young musician). Granted, down the road we learn that isn’t he birth name, but it’s the moniker she goes by to honor the stardust from which she’s been born. The film’s first third is cloying to the point of giving us a tummy ache, and yet it finds some rhythm (before losing the beat altogether) during the middle, giving the graceful VanderWaal the space to brighten the screen as her altruistic character breathes new life into the arid atmosphere of an Arizona high school that’s in desperate need of some rain. VanderWaal has the kind of natural empathy and talent that’s deserving of material in the realm of Me and Earl and the Dying Girland Stargirl’s PG rating limits the emotional scope of a movie about the very age group that PG-13 was made for in the first place.

Perhaps it’s meant to be a folk tale contemplating the mechanics of the universe and the big effects one single person can have. A few scenes seems to suggest as much. But Stargirl lacks an sense of viable authenticity to back up those ideas, and that it lazily paints the titular character as the standard “manic pixie dream girl” fawned over by a one-note male lead just goes to show how on the nose and insincere this adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s YA novel comes across in the film format. Stargirl twinkles as best it can, and its solid soundtrack mixed with music video worthy performances should hopefully drive youngsters to tune into tracks they’ve never experienced, but that doesn’t make up for all of the massive eye rolls this movie induces from beginning to end.

“Nothing ever happened here.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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