“Stargirl” from Disney+ is a tender and offbeat coming-of-age story based on the critically acclaimed New York Times best-selling young adult novel by Jerry Spinelli about the confident and colorful new girl at Mica High School, an eccentric, ukulele-playing free spirit named Stargirl Caraway. Until then home-schooled, Stargirl is eager to make friends but hasn’t conformed to the ideas of how kids are supposed to be or supposed to act. She is completely unaware of the concepts of conformity and fitting in, two of the unspoken rules of the game in high school.
Following her instincts and not a bit self-conscious, Stargirl likes everyone and everything loves all animals and believes strongly in random acts of kindness. Needless to say, she is conspicuously different from the rest of the kids at Mica High. Although she’s ignored and ridiculed by most of the students, Stargirl manages to charm and intrigue mild-mannered, unassuming marching band trumpeter Leo Borlock, who has always been content flying under the radar. The two quickly become inseparable, and soon Stargirl’s popularity with the rest of the student body skyrockets.
The specifics of Stargirl matter a lot, then, and it too rarely emerges from the bubble of its platitudes to make Stargirl herself feel like a fully-realized character. Later in the film, events lead Stargirl to reject her outgoing persona and try to be more “normal,” and Grace VanderWaal does a lovely job of portraying someone who becomes less sure of herself the more she tries to blend in.
Also when one of Stargirl’s random acts of kindness toward a rival school’s quarterback is perceived by Mica’s student body as a betrayal, she is shunned, which threatens Leo’s need for conformity and sends them both on a bittersweet journey of self-discovery.
A celebration of individuality, kindness and the power of the human spirit, “Stargirl” is directed by Julia Hart from a screenplay by Kristin Hahn and Julia Hart & Jordan Horowitz based on the novel by Jerry Spinelli. The film stars singer-songwriter Grace VanderWaal in her film debut, Graham Verchere, Karan Brar, Maximiliano Hernández, Darby Stanchfield, and Giancarlo Esposito.
Romanticized fables have their place, and the teen romance of Stargirl is appealing at times. Director Julia Hart—who made the fascinating low-budget superhero drama Fast Color a couple of years ago—gives the movie some pop in its visuals, including a great shot that finds Stargirl going out of focus as she wrestles with defining what her personality will be.
Stargirl is now streaming on Disney+.
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