Movie Review: Midnight Sun (2018)

If you’ve been looking for a reason to have a good cry, look no further than MIDNIGHT SUN. This teen tear jerker has more holes in it than a pair of well-worn skinny jeans but when it goes for the heartstrings, it latches on big-time.

Katie Price (Bella Thorne, perhaps best known for TV’s SHAKE IT UP) is a cute-as-a-button, 17-year-old who lives in the fictional, one-high school town of Perdue, Washington, along with her widowed father, Jack (Rob Riggle). She suffers from a rare genetic condition that keeps her out of the sun. Dubbed a vampire by the neighbourhood kids, she spends her days inside behind tinted windows sleeping and playing her guitar, while she studies at night. Now that she’s older, both she and her “vampire” nickname seem to have been forgotten and none of her peer group except for her only friend, Morgan (Quinn Shephard), knows who she is, much less are they aware that she can often be seen performing at night at the train station. It’s one night when she’s at the station where she sees one of her neighbours, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the town’s swimming hunk, who has decided to forgo his high school graduation party and walk around town aimlessly. Katie, we learn, has had a crush on Charlie for a decade. Every day when he would ride past her bedroom window on his skateboard, she would pine away wishing she could be outside with him. Charlie, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue who she is but he’s immediately smitten. He asks Katie out on a date and she agrees, and the two of them begin their summer romance. Katie, however, doesn’t tell Charlie about her condition until one fateful night when they’re out a bit too late.

Google “XP disorder” and then click on “Images” to see what real people who have Katie’s condition look like. Katie looks nothing like that. Granted, she’s taken every precaution possible since she was first diagnosed but having flawless skin is bordering on the ridiculous and does a disservice to the people who really have the condition. It’s this Disease-of-the-Week premise that makes this weepy romance so disingenuous. I’ll admit that I got a bit misty-eyed a couple of times but the screenwriters and director Scott Speer (teen dance film STEP UP REVOLUTION) took the low road to get me there. The film is based on a 2006 Japanese film of the same name (“Taiyo no uta” in Japanese) and it’s the kind of story that teenage girls in that country would wail in unison over. (Interestingly, the incidence of XP is 1 in 20,000 in Japan while in the US it’s 1 in 250,000.)

Older moviegoers like me who remember the film LOVE STORY will certainly groan near the film’s end when Charlie apologises to Jack for being unaware of Katie’s condition. I’m not sure how he was supposed to know, especially considering that Katie didn’t want him to know but Jack, in a line torn straight from that movie and book, tells Charlie that he doesn’t need to apologise because he knows he loved Katie. It’s hard to believe that the writers went there but they did.

Manipulativeness aside, the young actors are certainly pleasant to watch for 90-odd minutes. Schwarzenegger, who has only been in a few films so far, is not going to win any acting awards anytime soon but he does have great hair and a nice, toothy smile. I’m sure Arnie and Maria are proud of their son. The best performance, however, comes from gal-pal Shephard who brings some edge to what is essentially a very safe movie about some nice people who are dealing with an awful disorder.

If you’re looking for a teen romance where one character dies, there are far better films than MIDNIGHT SUN. (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL are two recent examples that come to mind.) But if you just want to have a good cry and not look too closely at the story, check it out.

Listen to the review recorded in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, June 21st at 8:30 am HK time!

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