Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) is an average student at Mica High School. He gets decent grades, is a member of the school’s marching band and has always been content flying under the radar. But all that changes when he meets Stargirl Caraway (Grace VanderWaal), a confident and colorful new student with a penchant for the ukulele, who stands out in a crowd. She is kind, finds magic in the mundane and touches the lives of others with the simplest of gestures. Her eccentricities and infectious personality charm Leo and the student body, and she quickly goes from being ignored and ridiculed to accepted and praised, then back again, sending Leo on a rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Maybe it’s just because I am a sucker for syrupy sweet coming-of-age tales or maybe it’s because I love powerful and uplifting stories of troubled teens finding their way in the world. Either way, Stargirl is a remarkably impressive, feel-good breezy watch that is infectiously happy. It’s an exceptionally told story of a mysterious girl and a teen boy that find their place in the world and their school, even if it does have some issues along the way.
Throughout the course of my life, I have seen dozens of coming-of-age films. While I greatly enjoy and appreciate some of the classics such as Sixteen Candles or Stand By Me, my personal favorite has to be Kelly Fremon Craig’s masterful The Edge of Seventeen; a raw and emotionally rich character study with tons of heart and laughs.
Julia Hart’s Stargirl is similarly chalked full with a lot of heart and laughs to be had along the way, even if it isn’t the most reinvigorating or fresh addition to the genre. The filmmakers set up the world of this story and even Stargirl herself to be something of a mystery. Throughout the course of the film, we are never really sure as to who Stargirl is. Along the way, we do find out more about her and it is incredibly interesting and fun to follow her storyline. Unfortunately, it does at times falter from following some of the genre tropes and clichés that we have come to expect at this point.
But what makes this movie stand out significantly is the way it progresses its story. For the first thirty minutes, it does feel disappointingly familiar and it felt as if Hart was unclear as to where she wanted to take this story. Gratefully, by the second act came around, the grand picture became a little more clear and therefore, the rest of the film was much more entertaining to follow.
So even though the story can oftentimes be familiar and predictable, it can also be exciting and interesting. But without a doubt, the biggest praise I can give Stargirl is its performances by Grace VanderWaal and Graham Verchere, who help boost the film’s infectiously sweet style and presentation.
Up until this point, VanderWaal has not necessarily been known for acting. In fact, this is the debut feature film role for the young star. Best known for winning the popular reality competition series America’s Got Talent‘s eleventh season, she has garnered quite the reputation in the music community ever since her victory in 2016.
Ever since then, she has released one studio album and two extended plays. I have always been a massive fan of her music career and I even own some of her music on my phone, but I just was not too sure as to how I felt about her being an actress. Sometimes, musicians try to be actors and it simply does not work out.
However, I can gladly report that the opposite is the case with VanderWaal. In the role of Stargirl Caraway, she delivers a gleefully cheery and shockingly emotional performance. One scene in particular in which she has to deliver a speech left me with my mouth open, staring at my screen in complete silence.
In addition to this, the chemistry that she has with Verchere is a delight to watch. The two feel like they have known each other in real life for many years and the relationship they share in the movie never once felt fake or forced. Getting to witness the journey of Stargirl and Leo was not only a blast to watch, but rewarding as well.
The dynamic they have is extremely uplifting to watch and is sure to put a smile on anybody’s face. They always do things together such as taking long walks and sing songs. However, their journey ultimately leads to an ending that, while I can definitely appreciate and respect it for being incredibly bold and surprising, felt like a cop-out.
For the longest time, the movie feels like it is definitely going to go one way. The way that it was originally heading would have been a great and sweet ending, but towards the final thirty minutes, it takes an abrupt and jarring turn for the worse.
Even if the ending was less than satisfying and out of the blue, this was still a highly fun and cute watch. It definitely won’t be for everybody, and that’s okay. But if you are looking for a breezy watch that will be sure to put a smile on your face and feel good inside, this film will do exactly that.
Although its story can oftentimes feel predictable and familiar, Stargirl‘s cheery and uplifting style mixed with its terrific performances from Grace VanderWaal and Graham Verchere make it a delight to watch.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Directed by: Julia Hart
Distributed by: Disney+
Release Date: March 13, 2020
Running Time: 107 minutes