Grace VanderWaal, winner of Season 11 of “America’s Got Talent”, has already released two albums and has become a musical phenomenon. Now she tries her hand in acting as the title character, in her first leading actress performance, in the Disney+ original film “Stargirl”. Director of the extraordinary “Fast Color”, Julia Hart takes a indie approach to a coming of age love story. Based on the 2000 novel, “Stargirl” has a level of intelligence and accomplished storytelling. It always manages to find just the right notes in being precious, lovely, serendipitous and something magical.
What a crazy world we are living in right now, feels like we are living straight out of the movies. Never would I have thought, I’d be living in a world feeling so much like “Outbreak” or “Contagion”. With so many businesses either closed or shutdown including virtually all movie theaters for an indefinite period due to the coronavirus crisis, my film reviews for the time being will focus on streaming debuts within the services I do have, such as: Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon and higher-end video on demand entries.
Not having to go the cineplex to get my daily movie fix. I am discovering there are a multitude of films worth discovering and talking about. One of them is the new original film from streaming service Disney+ that debuted last weekend called “Stargirl”. Based on author Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 YA (young adult) bestseller, about an unconventional and seemingly magical girl who comes into the life of a lonely teen boy in Arizona, by changing his life and everyone around him forever.
Initially to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke, director of “Twilight” (who stayed on as executive producer), the directors chair were turned over to director Julia Hart, who directed the exceptional superhero tale “Fast Color” two years ago. Along with her husband and frequent collaborator Jordan Horowitz (“La La Land” screenwriter). The two have adapted “Stargirl” as a Disney+ original film. It’s a high school comedy/drama and semi musical that has the sweet and smart cinematic touch of the late great John Hughes.
Hart, who has a gift to bring authentic and fresh talent to her films. Has given a fresh and new young talent as a leading lady in front of the camera. Season 11 of “America’s Got Talent” winner Grace Vanderwaal, plays the title character “Stargirl”. She has already released two successful albums and has become a musical phenomenon thanks to the reality talent show. Vanderwaal has the right stuff musically and there is no question about it. But in her first acting role she surprisingly has enough acting chops that never make her look like she’s trying too hard. At 16 her career has only started and she is on her way to becoming the next “IT” girl.
Vanderwaal’s character who goes by the name Stargirl and dresses like a rag doll, carries a ukulele (which is Vanderwaal’s go to instrument) everywhere and has a pet rat. She seems to know everything about everyone and about the universe. She introduces herself to Leo (Graham Verchere) who has just moved to a small town in Arizona, to start fresh after his father had passed away. Just as Leo was turning 16, here enters new student, Stargirl Caraway who changes his life.
She teaches Leo, the school and makes the films message clear, that nothing is more important than being one’s true self. Graham Verchere, plays Leo Borlock and Verchere is a true natural just as Vanderwaal is. The two have instant chemistry in the sweetest way imaginable and make the story come alive.
“Stargirl” does have some musical performances by both Vanderwaal and Graham Verchere. Vanderwaal strums her ukulele to The Beach Boys “Be True to Your School”, a clap along rendition of the Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat”. There is a great tribute to The Cars, as a couple major plot moments revolve around The Cars “Just What I Needed”.
VanderWaal maybe new to the acting game and still learning how to deliver dialogue and react to things on camera. When she strums that ukulele and puts her unique vocal spin on pop classics, she’s further proves she’s a star in the making and making it obvious that she was the right choice to win “America’s Got Talent”.
Director Julia Hart continues to show great promise as a filmmaker, and you should check out her last film, the excellent “Fast Color”. Thanks to Hart, “Stargirl” is a beautiful-looking film, with striking cinematography and rich color.
While “Stargirl” is targeted to a slightly younger generation. It has the same level of intelligence and accomplished storytelling as a teenaged adult story like “Love, Simon”. It always manages to find just the right notes in being precious, lovely, serendipitous and something magical.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)