This uber-Romantic teen film (based on the YA eponymous book Nicole Yoon) checks all the reliable warm and fuzzy boxes. It has a very attractive and compelling duo (Yara Shahidi as Natasha and Charles Melton as Daniel), the ticking clock of 24 hours to fall in love, and New York City as the sexy, sensual backdrop. Having such a winning combination makes it easy to be swept up in the film, but runs the risk of feeling too rote or simplified.
There’s something refreshing though to see romance cliches fulfilled by a pairing not usually seen on screen: the pairing of a first generation Korean-American young man and a Jamaican immigrant young woman. It’s also nice to see the tropes that are familiar with media portrayals of biracial couples aren’t the prime drama in this film. While racism does provide some moments of tension between the couple, that’s not the crux of what tears them apart; most of their divide is skepticism of love (on Natasha’s part) and Natasha’s very quickly impending deportation from New York City (her home for the past nine years) to Jamaica.
With such an interesting twist of familiar romantic tropes, the disappointment comes mostly in the execution. While Shahidi’s Natasha is worldly and confident from the jump, it’s Melton’s Daniel that takes a lot of the movie for him to cut away some odd, cocky posturing and find some truth in his performance. Daniel is a smart young man on the path to satisfying his parents’ dreams of him becoming pre-med at Dartmouth, but on his way to a college interview his day and larger life plans get derailed by Natasha. A secret dreamy poet, Daniel falls in love at first sight. He then pursues Natasha and orchestrates a chance encounter that’s half fated and half fluke. From looks alone it’s easy to see how these two would fall in lust at first sight; both actors are mind-knowingly attractive. The problem is that Daniel’s headstrong, persistent attitude towards Natasha falling in love with him within 24 hours, in a less attractive package, would come off as extremely creepy and very unappealing. Melton’s performance is also a bit robotic at the start of the film. Luckily he finds moments of sweet, youthful openness by the end of the film when it matters.
Another lackluster aspect to the film is the audience gets a really full picture of Daniel’s family and their expectations. While there are some glimpses Natasha’s family and the drama surrounds her family’s departure, there’s very little attention paid to her family’s actual dynamics.
One refreshing surprise in the film is John Leguizamo as an immigration lawyer who has chance and intentional encounters with Daniel and Natasha. His performance is warm but also with such a stark, grounded realism that plays a very different and needed note within the elevated romance of the young couple. It’s interesting to see him in a small role that jumps off the screen by its realism (which is also a change from Leguizamo’s comfortable sharp tongued and sardonic roles).
Director Ry Russo-Young has a really unique vision on telling teenage stories on film, especially translating YA books to movies. While her previous turn (the darkly funny If I Fall) in this genre feels more fluid, she pulls special moments out of her young actors. She also plays with how NYC is seen on film in really interesting ways, sometimes nostalgic and familiar or unfolding like a hidden secret. She truly is a director to follow. Unfortunately, Tracy Oliver’s script falls into trite and stilted territory where you want it to feel intimate.
While Russo Young’s vision feels special and Shahidi and Melton are dreamy on screen, this film just misses the mark in feeling like it could be this young generation’s Before Sunrise or Medicine for Melancholy.