I watched “The Sun Is Also a Star” seated in front of some teenage girls who never once stopped talking to each other during the entire film, and perhaps that’s the right way to see this rather sweet movie; it almost needs an additional soundtrack of sardonic teenspeak. Based on Nicola Yoon’s best-selling YA novel, it’s the story of two Manhattan adolescents who meet and fall in love in a single day: pragmatic Natasha (Yara Shahidi), the science-oriented daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and romantic Daniel (Charles Melton), whose Korean parents want him to be a doctor, but who really wants to be a poet. Their day together has a poignant urgency: tomorrow, her family is due to be deported.
Director Ry Russo-Young (“Before I Fall”) puts them in a setting both gritty and swoony; a gray, breezy Manhattan, in which the duo wanders from the splendor of Grand Central Station to various locations — a coffeehouse, a train, a park — talking all the way. “What if I told you I could get you to fall in love with me?” Daniel asks. Natasha takes the dare (as well she might; I’ll just say that every girl at the screening was quite vocally buying what handsome Melton was selling), but warns him that she doesn’t have much time. Between pleading her case with an immigration lawyer (John Leguizamo) and dealing with the hostility of Daniel’s brother (Jake Choi), the two spend the day making memories.
It’s all quite wistfully romantic, and mostly winningly so, despite the sometimes wise-way-beyond-their-years dialogue and not always plausible plot. (I’m sorry but no one, at any age, can spend the night sleeping on the grass in a park and wake up looking THAT good.) Ultimately, Shahidi and Melton make us want to see Natasha and Daniel together, and we spend the movie hoping that these nice kids, against all obstacles, might walk into the sunset with arms entwined. Do they? I’ll just say that, in the film’s final scene, an audible, trembly whimper floated up from somewhere in the rows behind me; the sound a puppy might make upon finding its dreams coming true.
★★★ “The Sun Is Also a Star,” with Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo, Jake Choi. Directed by Ry Russo-Young, from a screenplay by Tracy Oliver, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. Opens May 17 at multiple theaters.