You’ve already seen Midnight Sun. You just don’t realize it.
Pretty boy meets prettier girl. Girl has tragic disease. Boy falls hard for girl anyway and goes to chivalrous extremes to care for her. Girl loves him back even though she knows this relationship won’t end well. Death. Tears. Credits. This entry in the weepy romance genre, however, needs immediate medical attention. Can any doctor fix a predictable story and one-note characters?
Bella Thorne stars as 17-year-old Katie Price. Katie is just like any other teen except that she has a very rare genetic condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. If she spends a few minutes in the sun, she’s liable of being exposed to dangerous ultraviolet rays that will kill her. Sheltered and home-schooled Katie only ventures outside in the dark. Her young neighbors, somehow unaware that she has a disease, snicker that she’s a vampire. She has exactly one friend. Her mom is dead. And yet, Katie has the enthusiasm and perfectly honey-hued hair color of a varsity cheerleading captain.
A virtual prisoner in her home, Katie makes a hobby out of sitting by her bedroom window and watching the world pass by. That’s where she first spots the strapping Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and starts to crush on him. He’s just a stranger until the night she heads to a train station and plays her beloved guitar. Charlie notices her and asks her out. She neglects to tell him that she’s window-stalked him for years, which is fine. She also neglects to tell him that she’s medically forbidden from feeling sunlight on her skin, which is sooooo not.
The two embark on after-dark excursions and a PG-rated relationship. (Her single dad, played by Rob Riggle, has zero objections to his daughter’s dalliances.) Katie knows that every time she flirts with him on an extended date, she’s flirting with danger. Indeed, a little night-swimming on the beach turns to disaster. So much for the big secret!
At the very least, Midnight Sun wins the award for Most Bonkers Movie Disease. After the screening, I googled XP just to make sure it wasn’t a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination. Answer: It’s not, though there are fewer than 1,000 XP victims in the U.S. And it’s true that even brief sun exposure can lead to death. Yet while the disorder may not be farfetched, nearly every other aspect of Katie’s life is a reach. I don’t care that her dad is an idealized father figure; there’s no way a girl raised in isolation can be this sunny and well-adjusted. We never see her struggle or rebel. She has the same can-do attitude when it comes to living and dying.
A winning, swoon-worthy love story could have salvaged the wobbly film. (Seriously. Just check out the 1970 movie Love Story). But Thorne can’t make it work with the Schwarzenegger, the handsome son of action hero movie star Arnold and journalist Maria Shriver. In his first movie role, Schwarzenegger is visibly unsure taking on leading man responsibilities. All we know for sure is that Charles cares for Katie, and that’s not enough to hang a movie on. We need to feel like he’d die for her, dammit, not just be bummed if she withers away. Thorne shares more authentic chemistry with Riggle, an edgy comedian (21 Jump Street) able to sell the drama here.
For hopeless romantics, there’s a certain hot-chocolate-on-a-winter-day coziness in seeing a star-crossed couple try to make it work under impossible circumstances. Deep down, perhaps we all want love to conquer all — and, yeah, we want a guy to play prince charming to his ailing princess. Familar films such as A Walk to Remember, The Fault in Our Stars, The Vow and gender-reversing Me Before You weren’t groundbreaking Oscar winners; they just knew how to tug at your heart strings with panache. Midnight Sun is too wooden to be successfully schmaltzy. Save your money and your tissues.
Midnight Sun opens in theaters Friday, March 23
Also published on Medium.