Nicola Yoon’s best-selling young adult romance The Sun Is Also A Star transformed into a movie this past weekend, but the critics didn’t seem to love it. Now with a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, this story about interracial love bombed at the box office, so how does that impact other multicultural YA novels blossoming into films?
So far, the movie grossed $2.5 million, significantly below the anticipated $6 million to $12 million from 2,100 theaters, according to Variety. Deadline Hollywood said the film’s ultimate box office return on its $9 million production budget looks dismal with even the author’s debut novel-turned-movie Everything, Everything opening at $11.7M in 2017 and finishing with almost $62 million globally.
The movie follows the novel well with Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi of Grown-ish) heading to an immigration lawyer to save her family from deportation scheduled for the next day when she bumps into Daniel Bae (Charles Melton of Riverdale), who believes their meeting is kismet. As science-minded Natasha fights Daniel’s determination to make her believe in love and fall in love with him, they’re savoring every moment they can together in New York City. With the cinematography expertly showcasing the city, the marshmallow fluffiness of love that readers adored falters a bit onscreen.
And reviewers emphasized that. Entertainment Weekly gave the movie a C while it gave the book in 2016 an A with having the exclusive of the cover reveal. Separate reviewers graded the film and book, but it’s jarring to see such variations for the same media outlet.
The New York Times editors added the book to its curated top children’s books of 2016. “The story and its trappings feel a little generic, the dialogue studiously bland and the characters and their problems curiously weightless, in spite of gestures in the direction of real-world issues,” A.O. Scott wrote in the film review. And “generic” pops up in the headline for the review as well.
Potential moviegoers also saw casting issues with both stars being biracial when Natasha and Daniel were not in the story. Yara is half-black, half-Iranian when Natasha is fully Jamaican, a contrast visible in the film where the actors representing Natasha’s family have a darker complexion. Charles is half-white, half-Korean when Daniel is fully Korean, another contrast visible with the actors playing his family look fully East Asian as his attractiveness is mentioned. It’s the same issue that reared its head in the casting of Nick Young’s character in Crazy Rich Asians.
How this successful novel became an unsuccessful film may not influence future multicultural YA adaptations, but the magic of a book is hard to capture, and casting and script-writing obviously plays a role in the high-profile critiques and bringing the key audience into theaters.