When I initially heard about Midnight Sun, the first thing that came to mind was last year’s Everything, Everything, which also included a young teenage girl trapped in her house because of some rare disease. One major difference between the two films is that in the latter film, the main character couldn’t step outside at all due to a failed immune system, whereas in the former, Katie (Bella Thorne) can go outside, but only at night, since any contact with the sun will basically kill her. Both films dissect the idea of how much a life a person can actually have when they’re all but trapped in their home, and wrap that idea around a convenient love story, in which the girl falls in love with the cutest guy on the block, who just so happens to find them to be beautifully captivating.
There are a few more similarities (talk about going off to a far-away place, characters ogling over their love interests through windows), but the differences do keep them from feeling like a carbon copy of one another. The biggest difference is in how the female characters handle the disease. In Everything, the heroine isn’t secretive about her disease. She may not come right out and say what it is, but at least her boy toy knows that being outside is dangerous. In Midnight, Katie keeps her illness a secret from Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a simple choice that makes some sense under the circumstances, but becomes really stupid as the relationship unfolds.
You can see where Midnight Sun is going from the very first frame because it doesn’t stray far, if at all, from the basic formula we all come to expect from a young adult love story. However, Thorne and Schwarzenegger are charming enough to hold your attention and become invested in not only their relationship, but in the disease itself. The meet-cute on the train station platform where Katie likes to play music on occasion is sweet and funny, as Katie makes excuse after excuse for why she has to leave after coming face-to-face with the boy she’s been watching ride by her window every day. She encompasses just the right amount of anxiety, fear, embarrassment, love and flirtatious goofiness that you can’t help but fall in love with her, and Schwarzenegger proves that he can be a movie star in a much different way than his father.
As the two get to know one another on a deeper level, we feel how connected they are, not just in a physical way, but a spiritual way as well. None of it would have come to fruition, though, if it wasn’t for Katie’s best friend, Morgan (Quinn Shephard), who I’d be totally up to seeing in her own movie. She’s got that hot-girl-screaming-to-break-free-of-her-geektastic-tomboy-shell vibe going on, and it works well against all of the other characters in the film. A subplot between her and one of her co-workers (Nicholas Coombe) does get a little bit of a short-shrift, but it’s still a fun little juxtaposition to the love affair the film is focused on.
This isn’t the only subplot that fails to get fleshed out, either, the biggest of which is the relationship between Charlie and a high school sexpot (Tiera Skovbye) who desperately tries to hook up with Charlie. These flagrant attempts at getting into his pants are a bit off-putting, especially when they have no consequence to anything that happens in the film. It’s there to represent Charlie as one of the popular jocks who could have any girl he wants, but chooses Katie over the casual hookup, showing he isn’t just a shallow kid, but is looking for someone that excites him, who’s interesting and mysterious and intelligent and creative. But without some sort of closure or comeuppance for the shallow rich girl, her jealousy of Katie feels shoehorned into the film over the long run.
One standout I do want to give props to is Rob Riggle, who delivers a unexpectedly subtle performance as Katie’s dad. I don’t tend to care for Riggle’s brand of broad comedy, as to me it always feels a little too forced. But as a widowed father of a sick child, Riggle pulls back on his usual instincts and channels that madcap energy into providing this man with powerful strength and depth. He’s scared for his daughter but wants to see her happy, so allowing her to be more than the porcelain doll he’s raised is hard for him. We can see a mix of pain and joy in every look and choice he makes for and with her, and it helps to build a solid, well-established relationship between him and Katie. It’s nowhere near an Academy Award winning performance, but for Riggle, it’s a big step forward into new territory that I believe he can make work to his advantage.
The disease depicted in the film is a real disease known as xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), and it certainly shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, with the description alone — wherein the slightest exposure to the ultraviolet rays of sunlightcan cause unreparable damage to the DNA of a person’s epidermal cells, easily leading to skin cancer and death — I couldn’t help but wonder (which they also somewhat refer to in the film) if this disease may have had a part to play in vampire lore. That aside, Midnight Sun surprised me when it came to my overall reaction, and though it may have a lot of similarities to other recent films and stick closely to the genre’s story beats, it’s certainly a good date-night flick that packs a decent emotional punch.
My Grade: A-
I’m not sure why all of the recent giant robot flicks and action movies think that they need to populate their movies with pre-teens, but unlike the recent Transformers, at least the young girl (Cailee Spaeny) in Pacific Rim: Uprising actually has a purpose to the overall film, which itself does a good job of extending the lore of the original. A-
Though I applaud Steven Soderbergh choosing to film the entirety of Unsane on an iPhone, and I like how the uncomfortable angles help make you feel as if you yourself are stalking the character, because there isn’t any life to the story, the film ends up feeling like a glorified attempt by a film student to impress his professor. B
Next week, new movies include Ready Player One, Tyler Perry’s Acrimony and God’s Not Dead: A Light In Darkness. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.