Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger Star in the Latest Sick-Teen Romance
DIRECTED BY SCOTT SPEER/2018
I had a lot of trepidation heading into the screening of Midnight Sun. Was this going to be another entry in the teen-find-love-and-cancer entries that have been stacking up the last couple of years, like The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl & the Dying Girl? Would it be a rehash of last year’s Everything, Everything, where a girl with a certain affliction can’t leave the house lest she die….until she meets a boy and it opens up her world?
The short answer is a resounding yes…..and yes. The longer answer contains some nuance. While Midnight Sun might be similar and in the same vein as the above mentioned films, there is enough differences, and plenty to like about it, earning it a little bit more consideration.
Based on the Japanese film Taiyo no uta, written by Kenji Bando, Eric Kirsten writes the English language version about a seventeen-year old girl named Katie (Bella Thorne) who lives with her widower father, Jack (Rob Riggle). Katie has an extreme form of XP (Xeroderma Pigmentosum) where any exposure to sunlight will begin an irreversible process caused by ultraviolet light damage to the cells and DNA usually resulting in death by metastatic melanoma and certain types of carcinomas….or basically: Cancer. This is a real disease, though rare.
Midnight Sun is a teen film that takes on the tragedy of life with hope and a smile.
Katie’s mother passed away at an early age, but she serves as a muse for Katie’s love of music and songwriting. Every day we see Katie looking out of her window that is equipped with appropriate UV blocking tinting that cause her to be labeled early on by her elementary school peers as a real-life vampire. Despite this, one girl chooses to walk up to her front door and knock, asking to play with her. When Jack tells her that Katie can only play at night, Morgan (Quinn Shephard) precousiously tells him, that she’ll be back after dark, and that she likes pizza. They were best friends from then on.
Katie has also noticed a boy named Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) who every day skates past her house on his way to school, or swim practice. She is attracted to him, but the idea of ever meeting him is just the stuff of teenage fantasy, especially after seeing Charlie and others passing down the street following high school graduation. Her father has homeschooled her, and so Katie is given her own graduation present: her mother’s guitar, which she values greatly.
Excited, she asks to go down to the train station that night to play for the passengers outside the station. As an aspiring musician, she reasons, she has to get used to playing in front of people. It is here that she actually runs into Charlie who is immediately smitten by the beauty and talent of this girl he has never seen before, not realizing she has been right down his street his whole life. She, on the other hand, has a hilariously awkward reaction as her ideal-fantasy crush has just walked into her reality.
Midnight Sun hits many of the usual beats that exist in teen films, as Katie begins to want to have more freedom than her disease has allowed her. Mainly this is so that she can continue to pursue a relationship with Charlie, but we see it begin to be at the expense of the solid relationship she has with her dad.
For the first time in her life, she is not being truthful about where she is going, which Morgan supports, if only because it means that Katie is a “normal” teen, finally. Fortunately, Katie comes clean pretty quickly with her father, and destroys the stereotypical teen film rebelliousness, allowing for humor to pervade the circumstance instead, since her father knew all along what was going on.
With a desire to have a “normal” relationship, she does fail to tell Charlie about her condition, and this will eventually put her in a precarious position that may cause her to lose everything as a result of the XP.
Midnight Sun is a teen film that takes on the tragedy of life with hope and a smile. Like The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl & the Dying Girl, humor is very important to creating this balance, and Midnight Sun has it in spades, largely thanks to Rob Riggle. The characters that populate this film are like artificial sweetener on steroids, but fortunately the casting of Bella Thorne, Quinn Shephard, and Patrick Schwarzenegger helps mute the overly sweetly-written characters they play, as they are able to come across as just good kids seeking to navigate the beginning of their lives. This was refreshing in that we didn’t have to wade through all of the stereotypical “good kids experiment with bad behavior” phases. Mostly, they just have a genuineness to them, even if it is sometimes a bit Pollyanna-ish.
Bella Thorne lends her real-life musical talent to the film, with the studio having promotional items for the film such as Kleenex boxes with a QR code that takes you to hear one of her songs that appears in the film. The Kleenex boxes are appropriate, for even though the film does hit a lot of typical emotional check boxes that you will see coming, it still is able to elicit an emotional response from the audience.
Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and Quinn Shephard will all see their Hollywood status rise a bit due to their performances, particularly Thorne who has appeared in several films as a side character (Blended, The Duff) but is now looking to become a lead as she enters her 20’s. With her character’s natural charm, musical ability, girl-next-door approachability, and humor, Thorne is ready to take it to the next level.
While “teens-facing-cancer-and/or-other-diseases-but-still- finding-love-in-the-midst-of-it-all” might now be its own sub-genre, Midnight Sun has enough originality and personality emanating from its cast to keep this sub-genre chugging along for the foreseeable future. So, while the subject matter of the film may be as dark as midnight, this story faces that darkness with much humor, hope, and light….a light that seeks to shine as bright as the sun.