In my imaginings, Stargirl was created by someone Googling “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” and going, “Yes! That is the story I want to tell!” I guess they forgot to scroll down far enough to realize that it’s usually considered a pejorative term?
Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) moves to Arizona with his mother and quickly learns that it’s best to just disappear into the background. Standing out can lead to trouble in such a small town. A few years later he starts to question blending in when Stargirl Caraway (Grace VanderWaal) arrives at his high school. She’s quirky and mysterious and doesn’t care a bit about fitting in.
Despite her whimsical ways, Stargirl becomes popular, singing at football games and becoming a good luck charm for the team. Leo and Stargirl begin a relationship, and for a while, they are totally happy. Popularity, of course, is fleeting. When Stargirl begins to lose the support of the school, Leo is ready to go back to blending into the background.
In Stargirl, Leo serves as the narrator. We learn about the death of his father and his cherished porcupine tie collection. In contrast, we learn next to nothing about Stargirl. She shows up one day at school, sings “Happy Birthday” to Leo in the cafeteria, then shows up in the middle of a football game to perform “Be True To Your School”. The only explanation as to why she quit homeschool was a desire to make friends. There’s a lot of “look she’s so quirky” without any effort to explain those quirks.
The “it’s better to be true to yourself” message isn’t exactly a bad one, and there’s nothing particularly harmful in the way Stargirl handled that message. It would just mean a lot more if Stargirl was a fully developed character who didn’t exist on the screen for the sole purpose of teaching her boyfriend that lesson.
Beyond the lack of character development, Stargirl has a whole host of problems. Stargirl is presented as a homeschool weirdo, leaning into that troubling stereotype. (And yes, I know I said they didn’t handle the be yourself message in a harmful way-I think Stargirl’s character is redeemed enough to give it a pass.) There’s a character named Benny with eating issues dressed up as comic relief. The pacing is often painfully slow. There are holes in the story large enough to drive an 18 wheeler right through them. On top of all of that, there’s an underlying awkwardness to the entire movie. Not that the characters are awkward, though many of them are. The whole movie feels a little awkward.
One part of the movie I really enjoyed was the soundtrack. That’s despite a friend calling midwatch and referring to whatever song was playing at the time as the most depressing thing he had ever heard. Apparently melancholy retro tunes are my jam.
That fact that I had a lot of issues with this movie doesn’t mean that I don’t think a lot of kids will enjoy it. Heck, if I had watched it when I was 12 I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed it. I’m long past 12, though, and definitely long past being able to enjoy this film.
You can stream Stargirl now on Disney+.
“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 about an unassuming high schooler who finds himself inexplicably drawn to the free-spirited new girl, whose unconventional ways change how they see themselves…and their world.