This Is a Movie Review: ‘Midnight Sun’ is a Mostly Bearable Slice of Teen Weepie Emotional Porn

1 Comment

CREDIT: Global Road Entertainment

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard

Director: Scott Speer

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: PG-13, Because Even Tame Teen Movies Are Rated PG-13

Release Date: March 23, 2018

It’s time for me to just come right out and admit: I have a soft spot for high school movies. How else could I explain my generally positive feelings toward the relatively unheralded Midnight Sun? The dialogue is hokey, and every little decision about what to do is super dramatic. This is all typical of the genre, and it is especially pronounced in this case. But in general, we like to give these excesses a pass, because adolescence is the height of hormonal awkwardness. And in the specific case of Midnight Sun, it is no big deal, charming even, because the vibes are good and everyone is looking out for each other.

Katie Price (Bella Thorne) is a 17-year-old with xeroderma pigmentosum, a potentially deadly sensitivity to sunlight. So she spends her days inside with her loving, protective, widowed father Jack (Rob Riggle). Besides Dad and her team of doctors, the only in-person interaction of note she has had over the years is with her best friend Morgan (Quinn Shephard), who made her way into Katie’s life by sheer force of personality. Since Katie can never venture outside during the day, it makes practical sense that she has never interacted with the boy she is pining after, much more so than is typical for the genre. When that fella, Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), chances to bump into her one night, they are pretty much a perfect item immediately. Since they act like actual teenagers, that initial super-spark does not track as totally unbelievable perfection.

Midnight Sun lays the emotional porn on thick, but it’s not like it is trying to hide its intentions. This is the type of film designed to get the waterworks going, and building the story around a chronic life-threatening disease is a quick, easy way to pull that off. But it is all justified by the fact that the emotions are so grounded. This is a movie in which everyone wants what is best for Katie and she wants what is best for them. They ask her to be honest, and the only times she ever fails to do so are when she does not want someone new to have to bear the burden of her disease. All of the relationships – familial, friendly, romantic – are healthy and admirable, and it is just satisfying to behold that.

It must also be said that Rob Riggle is a bit of a revelation here. From what I know of his career, he has never really stepped out beyond comedy, where he has settled into a niche of partly intimidating, but mostly charming bonhomie. He still more or less fills that role in Midnight Sun, but he recalibrates just enough to be the super-masculine dad who is really a big softie. And the movie needs him to pull that off, because someone has to deliver with conviction lines like “We’re in luck, ’cause she’s one in a million” (in response to being told that the chances of an obscure study leading to a viable treatment option are one in a million). That moment is the height of Midnight Sun’s dorkiness, and thanks to Riggle, I cannot help but love it.

Midnight Sun is Recommended If You Like: The Fault in Our Stars, Everything, Everything, A Walk to Remember

Grade: 3 out of 5 Acoustic Guitars

This Is a Movie Review: ’12 Strong’ Declassifies Post-9/11 Afghanistan But Doesn’t Have the Wherewithal to Ask the Tough Questions

Leave a comment

CREDIT: David James/HS Film, LLC/Warner Bros.

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Navid Negahban, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky

Director: Nicolai Fuglsig

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Typical War Violence and Expletives, Though Far From the Genre’s Most Explicit

Release Date: January 19, 2018

12 Strong dramatizes a U.S. military operation immediately following the September 11 attacks, in which Task Force Dagger struck back against the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan. A mission that could have lasted years is instead completed in a matter of weeks. Thus, the film ends on a moment of triumph. But that is a note that rings hollow, as nearly two decades in, the war on terror is still going on, with no clear end in sight.

To be fair, the dispersed, insidious, leaderless nature of terrorism makes it profoundly difficult to stamp out entirely, and it is accordingly just as difficult to convey the entire meaning of this conflict in a single work of art. 12 Strong does not purport to capture that entirety, nor should we fault it for failing to do so. But it does deserve to be taken to task for bringing up some existential conundrums and declining to thoroughly investigate them. An Afghani ally tells the men of Task Force Dagger, “You will be cowards if you leave, and you will be our enemies if you stay.” And that is really the crux of this issue. But instead of grabbling with that dilemma, 12 Strong leaves it hanging.

At its heart, though, 12 Strong just wants to be a celebration of heroism. And on that score, it is more committed, but not especially capable. It was filmed in New Mexico, and you can feel just how much it is not actually on a real Afghani battlefield. A cheap, careless aesthetic is not exactly the best way to honor these guys. I am sure budgetary constraints made things difficult, but that could have been counteracted with the same ingenuity that Task Force Dagger displayed, but alas, the final product is a bunch of grey dullness with occasional flashes of personality (that personality coming from the fact that these soldiers were forced to ride horses, which most of them are not trained to do, thus resulting in a few solid laughs).

12 Strong is Recommended If You Like: Saving Private Ryan but with straight-to-video production values

Grade: 2 out of 5 Horse Soldiers