By: Steve Pulaski
People always ask me if I have "celebrity crushes," and while I admit I don't have many, Bella Thorne is someone for whom I have a weak-spot. It's a spot weak enough to have made me rise earlier than normal on a Saturday morning and get me to see her latest film, which, on the surface, looked like nothing more than a clone of the surprisingly effective romantic-dramaEverything, Everything from last year. The things we do for l(ust)ove.
Midnight Sun, as it's called, is a remake of a Japanese film from over a decade ago, directed by Norihiro Koizumi, starring pop-sensation Yui. Thorne plays Katie Price, a 17-year-old sheltered in her home since early childhood thanks to a life-threatening genetic condition known as xeroderma pigmentosum (you'll recall in Everything, Everything, Amandla Stenberg's character Maddy had severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as SCID). Because of the disease, colloquially known as "XP," Katie cannot be exposed to direct sunlight without severe risk of skin cancer or even death. Her around-the-clock care/company comes from her spirited father, Jack (Rob Riggle), who has been her primary guardian since her mother passed, and Morgan (charmingly played by Quinn Shephard), her disarmingly honest friend from when she was little.
The only excitement present in Katie's days is when she glances out her protective-windows in the early morning to see Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a handsome local boy, go to school — a ritual she's done since she was little. For the most part, she spends her days in her room, strumming an acoustic guitar that once belonged to her mother or writing music in her journal. A choice encounter on the night of the town high school's graduation leads to Katie and Charlie finally meeting in person at the train station, where he is awestruck by her beautiful singing voice. From there — with a little help from a persistent Morgan — the two forge an affectionate friendship/relationship that knows no boundaries thanks to Katie keeping her rare disease a secret.
This is yet another one of those teen movies where characters are impossible rich with finances or resources in order to make every date an unmatched thrill. Rather than seeing Charlie realistically pick up doubles at the snack-shack in order to take Katie on a romantic dinner at Red Lobster, he takes her to downtown Seattle, where the two embrace the nightlife for hours on-end. He talks her into singing a song by the river, to which a crowd of people somehow form in less than two minutes to cheer for her. She convinces him to take a dip in icy water, despite knowing he hasn't been in the water since a drunken accident cost him his swimming scholarship at Berkeley. The two exchange sweet nothings on the boardwalk, and indulge in Chinese food on the train-ride to the city, all in a manner that could convince the foolish that money is irrelevant in the big city so long as you have true love.
Screenwriter Eric Kirsten knows better than to evoke any kind of realism into this material, and this is why the sick Katie looks like movie-star Bella Thorne and not someone whose energy is dwindling during her late-night rendezvouses. Someone in Katie's state would probably fall ill from overstimulation if subjected to what Charlie puts her through during their first couple dates, including multiple house-parties, one featuring a hilarious sequence of underage boys discovering that a keg of beer needs a tapper in order to properly function. Similar to the film Downsizing, which I'm convinced only myself and two other people actually saw, by the end of that film, you forgot the characters were five inches tall, and by the middle of this one, you forget that Katie is essentially living a vampire-lifestyle in order to survive.
Unlike the massively discombobulated Fifty Shades Freed or frothy Forever My Girl, Midnight Sunis genial and sweet, if contrived and largely romantic folderol. A sizable reason for its adequacy as a piece of genre-fare is due to the chemistry of the leads, which is evident from the first time the two cross paths. In the presence of one another, Thorne and Schwarzenegger look like they have just as much fun off-set as they do on-set, and that's one of the telltale signs you can just see when they are together on-screen. Thorne and Riggle even have some amiable father-daughter charm as well, another indicator that the casting of this film was strong enough that it elevated the aura of the overall product. If you can't buy the central romance in a romantic film, the film is already at a supreme disadvantage, and while I'm still not entirely convinced Charlie could survive the treatment Katie needs to live, I'll buy the two look and operate well when things are going in their favor, barring minor setbacks.
It's also nice to be reminded what a mutually beneficial relationship looks like, even if it comes gift-wrapped in a mostly unrealistic package. In Fifty Shades Freed, everything revolves around Christian Grey because he has the money and he calls the shots, where Ana and her life are dictated by her new husband's desires. In Forever My Girl, a single-mother's lifestyle is now abruptly burdened by the sudden return of her ex-boyfriend, who is now a superstar country singer who absolutely doesn't deserve her forgiveness. Both films show the woman trying to iron out the flaws of a less-than-suitable partner who most women would/should realize is toxic and unworthy of them. At least Midnight Sun has the courtesy of showing Katie and Charlie on an equitable playing field. He gets her to further realize her pipedream of being a singer/songwriter, and she works to get him a second chance at being a star college-swimmer.
Like our most extraordinary dreams, that doesn't mean we should drop our lives and tout our pursuit of them as the new norm, but in the case of Midnight Sun, we can make an exception and recognize the glimmers they offer as something that could be missing from the bigger picture.