Based on the novel of the same name by Jerry Spinelli, 'Stargirl' depicts the impact of its titular character starting high school. We're initially introduced to Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere), a teenage boy who as a result of being bullied as a child, decides to "disappear" among his peers. He starts to reconsider the way he lives life upon meeting Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal), who embraces standing out. This new girl dresses eccentrically - often in multicolours - and has no problem singing aloud for the world to hear. But after a time, her classmates seek to quash her individuality.
There's much to like thematically in 'Stargirl' as it examines what it means to be genuine and true to yourself. That's a message sure to capture the attention of the young adult audience. Tonally, it offers everything that demographic could want too. To most it'll come across as a bit silly, sentimental, and cheesy, with more musical sequences than seems necessary or realistic. But that's the way these YA romantic dramas tend to be. And thanks to its great lead performances in Graham Verchere and Grace VanderWaal, the film is generally very sweet.
Initially, our eponymous heroine is embraced by her school as her classmates attribute her to helping their football team excel. She makes those around her happy and excited; but they don't understand the extent of her generosity and selflessness. She's regarded as a good luck charm or source of magic. As a result, her peers fail to see her as a human being. A champion of mindfulness (given the lines she comes out with), Stargirl means to spread love and kindness throughout the world. She would've been lauded by the hippies of the 60s. But being out of her time, those in school attempt to snuff out the light she exudes. Sadly, Leo propels her most of all to not be weird, to "be like everyone else", to be "normal."
Spinelli's novel was written all the way back in the year 2000. While social media is integrated somewhat to modernise the work, it's not overly utilised and the events are mostly true to the book. However, certain idiosyncrasies of the novel are left out and fans who read it (without giving anything away) will feel disappointed by the changes.
Akin to classics like 'The Little Mermaid' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', the more emotionally complex elements of the story have been simplified. It has been 'Disney-fied', if you will. Which is a shame because the source novel had much to say about the damaging nature of bullying. And about the inner strength that is needed to stay true to yourself. Then again, because the book is two decades old, those watching the movie have probably not read it. Thus such comparisons mightn't even be an issue.
'Stargirl' is available to stream on Disney+ from launch Tuesday 24th March.