The Sun Is Also a Star, out May 17, is what would happen if Before Sunset were refracted through an Instagram filter and the urgent issues of America in the year 2019.
It tries to convince us, like Daniel convinces Natasha, that love is possible — and that it's what makes this unfair world bearable. Because The Sun Is Also A Star confronts America's inequities, too, in operatic fashion. Natasha meets Daniel the day before her family is set to be deported back to Jamaica, the result of an I.C.E raid. Meanwhile, Daniel is headed toward a college interview set up only to please his Korean parents. Both are bound to life tracks that neither particularly wants. And for a day, their trajectories meet in the middle. We meet them in that place of stillness.
We spoke to director Ry Russo Young about creating a teen romance that feels both timeless in its depiction of love, and timely in its depiction of America.
Refinery29: Did you believe in love like Daniel and Natasha’s before you started filming?
Ry Russo Young: “I definitely wasn't a person who was like, ‘I’m going to go make a romance movie.’ I never considered myself particularly romantic. But I’d say this movie converted me.”
What about The Sun Is Also a Star convinced you to make a romance after all?
“It was the combination of marrying new Hollywood and old Hollywood. I’d never seen a story like this before. It has familiar love story elements to it, but it also feels situated in the now — mainly because of the immigration aspects to the story, and cultural specificity. It felt contemporary, fresh, and urgent.”
You also directed Before I Fall, which is based on a YA novel. Why do you think YA is having this book-to-screen renaissance, and why are you drawn to it in particular?
“We’re in a different period of YA adaptations now. There was the whole post apocalyptic thing, there was the John Green craze, there was the Twilight phase. Now, we’re experiencing YA books that are directly addressing our time in a way that feels really exciting and refreshing, like The Hate U Give or Love Simon. I love movies about young people. I try to approach it with the same level of stakes and integrity as I would a movie about adults, and try to not talk down to the audience.”
Right, these movies don’t infantilize teenagers’ experiences. They make older people remember what it’s like to be 17 and really emotional.
“My husband always says I’m still a 17-year-old. I still feel like I did when I was 17. I have that same sense of unfiltered, ‘go get em’ bravery that I think you do when you're 17 and the world is your oyster.”
Why were you drawn to Yara and Charles for the parts?
“When we thought about who should play this role of Natasha, Yara she was my top choice and the studio’s. We went out of her and she said yes. That never happens! Then we were looking for our Daniel. Yara is so impressive as a mind and a person and a beauty — as an everything. We had to find someone that matched her level of wow factor, charm, and heart. When I read them together at a chemistry read that was when I was like, Oh, this is the movie."
The karaoke scene is so pivotal for Natasha and Daniel. How did you choose the song the song that Charles sang, "Crimson and Clover" by the Shondells?
"It's funny, because people keep asking me that. I try to identify early on the scenes that are going to be the big scenes in the movie. If we don’t nail this scene, then we don’t have a movie, kind of thing. The karaoke scene was one of them. Natasha has to be fantasizing about the rest of their lives together. That's the moment when you know that she’s fallen for this guy and is truly falling in love with him.
"You also need song that’s going to carry that whole fantasy and is really, truly sexy and speaks to all that. In the book, it was written as more jokey, and I was worried that the jokiness would obscure the emotions. We got a huge list of affordable songs. When I heard "Crimson and Clover" was on it I was like, Oh my God, are you kidding me? I love that song. That song is not only one of the sexiest songs I ever heard, but it's believable as karaoke. It’ll get us to this next level place with this fantasy. I played it for Charles, and he was on board."
During the karaoke scene, Natasha imagines their future together in a few flashes, from a wedding to playing with a baby in the park. What was filming those fantasy scenes like? Was the tone on set different?
“It was. The challenge of shooting a movie that's all in one day is making sure you’re calibrating how close they are and where their relationship is from point A to point Z. In those scenes, it’s like we’ve already reached Z. That's what so fun about it. Let’s just play. The thing that we’re slightly holding back on, or warming up towards, we can just go to 100% and enjoy it.”
What do you think happens to Daniel and Natasha after that serendipitous ending?
"I think they try to make a go of it together. I'm optimistic. Forever is a really long word. I say that even to my husband. We look at each other and say, we love each other but if it ever does not work, let’s talk about it. For a long time — but who knows! Hopefully they’ll just talk it through."