Based on the popular YA novel of the same name (penned by Jerry Spinelli), Stargirl is the shining star and breakout film of Disney+’s new original offerings.
Nothing ever happens in the small town of Mica, Arizona, or in the life of Leo, a quiet teen, until Stargirl Caraway suddenly appears, as if by magic. Shaking up football games, dressing oddly, singing in the cafeteria… Stargirl is the shakeup everyone knew they needed.
Beloved by all and envied by most, Stargirl quickly rises in popularity, and with no one more so than Leo. When Stargirl takes an interest in plain ‘ol Leo, a budding romance begins. Referred to in the Roger Ebert review as “the manic pixie dream girl of all manic pixie dream girls”, Stargirl is irresistible and unstoppable – until her habit of doing the right thing puts her at odds with everyone around her. When being unique is no longer cool, Stargirl (and by extension, Leo) is left with a choice – be yourself, or be normal? That is the question.
In the fashion of so many coming of age stories before it, Stargirl, in its quirky vein of Juno, Netflix-original, YA come to life teen fodder, accomplishes everything that type of film is supposed to accomplish. It feels cool, current, and impossibly fashionable while still marvelously fitting in with that aesthetic – the only difference here is that it’s played for a Disney audience, which means significantly more refined and squeaky than a theatrical release a la John Green. Disney+ tries to capture that same audience without the additional questionable sex, drugs, cussing, etc.
The film has a fantastic message, one of individuality, remaining true to oneself, loyalty, friendship, and integrity. The film addresses a necessary point – doing the right thing is okay when it’s cool, but when it becomes unpopular, where does that leave us? As the titular Stargirl points out in the film, how can we cheer when someone else is hurt? And why do we force ourselves to decide who we are right now? Co-written by the author himself, the film has a wealth of riches, deep thoughts that are needed for the teen audience…but unfortunately it doesn’t ever feel like the film lives up to them – or its true potential (perhaps because of the intended Disney audience). Grace Vanderwall, a positively enchanting entertainer, doesn’t seem to find her stride in the film either. And I hate to say that, because I really adore her music and her off-screen persona, but I spent the majority of the film wondering if the main character was sick because of how dry the performance seemed. Ms. Vanderwall’s acting seemed most at home during the musical performances, which are of course more her wheelhouse anyway.
In regards to differences between the film and the book, I don’t think you have to read the book in order to enjoy the film. However, I do think the film did not take true advantage of the source material. For example, the order of events was different in the book, and I believe make a stronger moral and emotional impact than the way things play out in the film (as far as Stargirl’s relationship with Leo and her overall personality). Stargirl’s personality and actions were elaborated on more in the book (her do-gooder habits), whereas in the film the majority of her attention is focused on the relationship with Leo.
Meanwhile, negative elements include references to the earth being made of galactic, sparkly dust, and one scene includes a female in a masculine dress attending a school dance with another female.
On the flip side, there are a lot of positive lessons that can be expounded upon here, like how Leo sacrifices his uniqueness to blend in – a problem most teens face – and needs Stargirl to find it again. Or how uniqueness is prided in today’s culture, while normalcy is regarded as dreary (from one extreme to another)…but the takeaway here for me, and for families of faith, is the main character’s genuine desire to do good for others, even when it’s not popular. Strip away all of Stargirl’s outlandish outfits, ukulele, and stunning vocals and you’ll see just a girl; a girl who chooses to challenge the way we treat each other, question antiquated social norms like being unwilling to step in and help, show compassion and empathy above herself. A girl who asks the big questions, a teen who’d rather study as flowers grow than scroll through social media. I hope that there is a bit of Stargirl in all of us.
We are pleased to award Stargirl the Dove Seal of Approval for Ages 12+.
Stargirl is a charming coming of age film that never quite reaches its full potential – think John Green, but Disney-fied.