TO THE STARS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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To the Stars sometimes feels earthbound by its melodramatic tendencies as it unfolds in a small-minded Oklahoma town in the early ‘60s. What saves this coming-of-age drama from simply being a farm-land Peyton Place that centers upon female social politics are its two leading ladies. Kara Hayward, who shone in her debut in Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom years ago, is mousy misfit Iris who is targeted both by male bullies and uppity girls at her high school. It doesn’t help that a bladder problem has earned her the nickname “Stinky Drawers.”

But then along comes pouty-lipped Liana Liberto as Maggie, a seemingly sophisticated and worldly-wise arrival in this insular burg. She designates herself as sort of bodyguard for Iris while impressing the clique led by Madison Beaty’s Clarissa as she tells them that her father is a photographer for Life magazine and claiming he has done portraits of Marilyn Monroe. That isn’t the truth. But Maggie is determined to bring out the best in her wallflower pal and sure enough the teen farmhand who works for Iris’ father has taken a liking to her.

Somewhat oddly, Iris likes to sneak out at night and go swimming in a nearby pond while staring at the stars and soon Maggie joins in. But just as Iris begins to relax and enjoy life, Maggie suddenly starts hanging out with a gridiron stud while trying to keep her not-very-hidden Sapphic urges at bay.

Shannon-Bradley Colleary’s script doesn’t do its due diligence in making us believe the period details while overtly bringing a modern-day sensibility to the sexuality at hand. At least Hayward and Liberto lend some much-needed authenticity to their performances but a little less gravity and more levity would help.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To the Stars is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for April 24, 2020

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.