Movie review: Manipulative ‘Midnight Sun’ goes for tears rather than reality
This teen love, disease of the week tearjerker unfolds in the style of a Nicholas Sparks novel: High school girl has rare disease that keeps her indoors during the day; high school boy meets her at night (when she can go out), and falls for her, and she for him; though she intends to tell him about her problem, she keeps putting it off; things go wrong.
Yeah, it sure sounds Sparksian, but the prolific author has no connection. “Midnight Sun” is based on the 2006 Japanese film “Taiyo no uta,” which I believe only played in the Far East. Maybe the filmmakers thought that female teen audiences in the States like weepy movies as much as they do in Japan.
The opening narration by Katie (Bella Thorne) explains everything: She can’t be in the sun because she was born with a rare condition called xeroderma pigmentosum or XP. Exposure would result in grave consequences, so she only goes out at night. Mom has died, but she has a close relationship with dad (Rob Riggle), who’s been homeschooling her. She’s fond of music, and writes songs that she sings to dad at home and to passersby when she hangs out at a nearby train station at night. She also spends time each day staring out a window, looking longingly at that high school boy, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) walking by. She’s been developing a crush for years, but never makes that known to anyone, not even her only friend Morgan (Quinn Shepard), who’s been visiting at her house since they were very young.
One night, shortly after dad has given her mom’s old Gibson guitar, Katie heads to the train station to sing and play one of her subpar (sorry, it’s the music critic in me) tunes to whoever else is there. Wouldn’t you know it, Charlie walks by, catches his first-ever glimpse of her, is smitten, flashes a huge smile (well, he is the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver), and tries to let her know his feelings. Her reaction: She’s been silently staring at the guy from afar for years, so of course she panics and runs.
Did someone say Cinderella? Katie forgets her notebook of lyrics (her glass shoe), which Charlie finds, shortly after calling out, “Wait! I didn’t get your name!”
In the script’s ongoing attempt to include a record number of romantic movie clichés while shamelessly manipulating audiences, dad visits Katie’s doctor and their ensuing chat clues us in on the severity of her condition; Morgan sets up a “surprise date” between Katie and Charlie; Charlie’s tells Katie a secret about how a freak accident affected his life; Katie doesn’t tell Charlie about her secret; and Charlie meets Katie’s overprotective dad, whose first question to him is, “Have you ever been arrested?”
That’s probably supposed to be funny, but either Riggle’s delivery is off or director Scott Speer didn’t catch that the line felt forced. I’d put more blame on the director, since the three kids with major roles as well as Riggle overdo it throughout the film. In general, their acting needs some tempering.
Then the writing gets in the way. A happy nighttime train ride with Katie and Charlie leads first to a wholly unrealistic scene of her being coerced to sing in a bigger-than-usual public setting, then to a happy-as-a-lark swimming scene, then — remember, she hasn’t gotten around to telling him about her condition — to a race against time and the rising sun. The film becomes a combination of Cinderella trying to beat the chimes of midnight and a vampire attempting to outrun the coming dawn.
Even though the film isn’t very long (91 minutes), it starts to drag, and the question in viewers’ minds isn’t how it’s going to end, but when it’s going to end. With all of the mediocre music in it, it might have been fun to go a little dark, and conclude it with “Here Comes the Sun.”
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Eric Kirsten; directed by Scott Speer
With Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard