Film Review: 'Hollywood Stargirl'
Stargirl Caraway takes the City of Angels by storm in this worthy follow-up of the 2020 original.
Stargirl Caraway's (Grace VanderWaal) time in Mica, Arizona has come to an end. Her mother Ana (Judy Greer) found a new job in Los Angeles designing costumes for a movie, with Ana promising Stargirl that L.A. will be the place where she finishes high school. So before her senior year begins, Stargirl explores her new home in search of a summer adventure. She finds it in her new neighbor Evan (Elijah Richardson), a teen who's making a movie with his brother Terrell (Tyrel Jackson Williams). After being captivated by Stargirl's singing, Evan and Terrell convince Stargirl to join their movie as the female lead. As Stargirl bonds with Evan and falls in love with the art of filmmaking, she also makes some more unexpected friends and begins to feel at home in her new city. But when unexpected complications arise, will her California dreams be shattered?
Much like 2020's Stargirl, Hollywood Stargirl is overflowing with heart. But unlike the original film, there's a significantly lower sense of drama. It takes a good while for conflicts to start cropping up in Stargirl's Los Angeles adventure, and even then, they're resolved as quickly as they appear. It's through its undeniable charm that Hollywood Stargirl avoids slipping into monotony. From the return of Stargirl's lovely musical stylings to the wholesome friendships she develops with just about everyone she meets in L.A., there's a lot to be charmed by.
There are also a few amusing jabs at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that Stargirl was only half successful in deconstructing. Evan's movie sounds conspicuously similar to the events of Stargirl and, after Stargirl pokes fun about how the female lead sounds more like a prop than a character, Evan quickly clarifies that his heroine is her own person with her own story to tell. While it would've been interesting to see more of Stargirl dealing with the challenges that come with suddenly moving to a place like Los Angeles, seeing her find new joys and passions to pursue is just as enjoyable.
While Stargirl Caraway was ironically a deuteragonist in Stargirl, Hollywood Stargirl allows her to take center stage. Rest assured, Stargirl still has her trademark colorful fashion choices and all-loving demeanor. But just like when she was back in Mica dealing with judgmental classmates and a fair-weather boyfriend, Stargirl shows she's more than just a fluffy ball of quirkiness. We get a further look at how she's grown weary of her mother's work keeping them from settling down in one place, which leads her to lash out when her life in Los Angeles is jeopardized. It also becomes clear that the events in Arizona have changed Stargirl for the better, as it would seem she's more mindful of other people's feelings than she was before. It's a subtle but noticeable sign of maturity and a great addition to Stargirl's characterization.
The supporting characters all find ways to rise up to Stargirl's level. Her mother Ana has an arc similar to the one Leo Borlock's mother Gloria had in the first Stargirl film, except hers is more defined and emotional. While Ana's career struggles and apprehension over planting roots end up causing Stargirl problems, her love for her daughter ultimately prevails over her fears and insecurities. Between that and the compassion and honesty that exists between them, Stargirl and Ana's relationship is extremely heartwarming to see after the latter spent almost all of the first movie offscreen.
Evan and Terrell are a charismatic duo, matching energies with Stargirl as they befriend her and work to turn their dream into a reality. Evan's blossoming relationship with Stargirl is sweet to watch develop--especially since, unlike Leo, Evan consistently encourages Stargirl to be who she is and doesn't turn on her when things get tough. Lastly, there's crabby neighbor Mr. Mitchell and snarky former singer Roxanne Martel, two characters who are endearingly rough around the edges and whose unlikely friendships with Stargirl are bound to make you smile.
Grace VanderWaal is the only returning actor from Stargirl and her performance here is just as great as it was in the first movie. She continues selling Stargirl as an authentic character and keeping her from feeling overly saccharine. She also shares chemistry with all of her stellar co-stars. Judy Greer makes Ana Caraway every bit as likable and sympathetic as her daughter. Elijah Richardson and Tyrel Jackson Williams give the Edwards brothers loads of charisma. Uma Thurman and Judd Hirsch give their characters a quieter sense of lovability. As icy as Roxanne and Mr. Mitchell can be at times, Thurman and Hirsch perfectly portray the defrosting process they go through as a result of meeting Stargirl. Altogether, in terms of acting, Hollywood Stargirl is as balanced and refreshing as a well-mixed Shirley Temple.
Having the same solid pacing, strong cast, and engrossing atmosphere as its predecessor, it's no surprise that Hollywood Stargirl earned the same great score as Stargirl. While the plot comes with a few hiccups, the story's upbeat warmth and appealing characters more than make up for it. The amazing music is an added bonus that enhances the film's indisputable ability to brighten one's spirits. So if you're feeling down, need something to watch on a rainy day inside, or are just a sucker for feel-good flicks, consider adding Hollywood Stargirl to your watchlist.
Score: 8 out of 10 sizzle reels.
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