In Midnight Sun, Katie (Bella Thorne) is a 17-year old girl who suffers from an extremely rare condition that makes her hypersensitive to sunlight to the point that even a small amount of exposure could lead to death. Confined to her home for most of her life, she’s home-schooled by her dad, Jack (Rob Riggle), and her only friend is Morgan (Quinn Shephard, Blame, Hostages). Until one day, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold) the boy she’s been watching pass her house everyday since grade school runs into her at a train station where she is allowed to sing and play guitar at night.
To be honest, my favorite part of the film was watching Bella Thorne light up the screen. Her performance was both believable and energetic as she stepped into the shoes of someone who had been sick her whole life and who’s mother passed away at an early age. Perhaps it was her personal challenges in life that inspired such an honest performance.
Known for his comedic roles, Rob Riggle’s interpretation of a single dad raising a sick daughter was heartfelt and made me feel for him. It’s hard to imagine what a parent goes through when their child is sick and many who find themselves in his situation everyday will surely relate to that careful balance between being an overprotective dad and ensuring that his child gets to enjoy life to the fullest.
Not much can be said for her co-star and on-screen love interest Patrick Schwarzenegger, whose only winning attribute here were his good looks. While he managed to play a typical California aloof surfer kid, I’m not sure that was what the script actually called for. There were very few moments if any when I felt a true connection between the two actors, despite the story needing them to fall in love in just a few months time.
The B-line story in this movie featuring Quinn Shephard and Nicholas Coombe as Morgan and Garver, respectively, seemed to be a sidenote that was inserted either for lack of material or as an additional storyline that was supposed to support the main one. However, both of those characters were underdeveloped and their romance seemed to come out of nowhere. That said, they still interested me more than the main love story, and I was curious to see more of how their love/hate relationship blossomed into a full romance instead of just the short snippets we were shown.
Everything cannot be blamed on the performances. Written by Kenji Bando (I Give My First Love to You, Heavenly Forest) and Eric Kirsten (The Uninvited Guest, The Lighthouse), the plot felt forced and often didn’t quite track. There were even a few instances when I felt myself thinking “huh?” in utter disbelief at how silly, stupid or ridiculous a situation seemed. While the characters were said to be teenagers, they played to a much younger age in their maturity and decision-making skills. Their attitude of throwing caution to the wind and lack of self-discipline not only took a way from the story, but also made their circumstances less believable.
Seventeen might be young, but having been that age I can say that most are not as naïve as this film makes them out to be. Furthermore, children who grow up with illnesses are usually far more mature than someone healthy their age, and this wasn’t portrayed in the film either.
While director Scott Speer (Realm, Step Up All In) did his best to make the most of the script and his talent, it was clear he too was on the fence about the storyline and how best to show such a predictable and cheesy teen romance.
Although I’m a huge fan of romantic films and even the (surprisingly popular) sub-genre of teen romance where one is dying and everything is meant to be high stakes and overdramatic, Midnight Sun just kind of fell flat even for a romantic at heart like myself. It seems like studios are desperately searching for this decade’s A Walk to Remember, but each time are coming up short.
Midnight Sun delivered a relatively sweet story, despite its mixed performances and lack of depth in most of its characters. It also shines a bright and much needed light on a very rare genetic condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP) that affects 1 out of 250,000 people in the United States. While more films should take on the role of educating the public about rare disorders, as an entertainment industry, their first priority needs to be the integrity of the film, from the story to the talent.