Often films about or centred around teenagers, are described as ‘coming of age’ which is a broad genre in itself, but this term is actually accurate and encompasses more than one way of coming of age for the main characters who each have their ‘demons’ to overcome, fears to face and strength to find.
Set in the 1960s, in a small, closed minded, religious town in Oklahoma, quiet, shy, introverted Iris is bullied by her peers on a daily basis as well as facing ridicule from her bitter mother. But when the charismatic Maggie joins her school, newly arrived from the city, the two soon becomes friends, giving Iris the courage, she needs. But a dark cloud hangs over Maggie’s head making her home life as well as her personal one difficult to control.
For a film that wasn’t adapted from a novel, the story really does play out and feel as if it were structured from a book first. Maybe it’s the setting, the period, the characters or the truth about why Maggie and her family had to move to a small town in the middle of nowhere. For a story that appears to be about people finding their voice or trying to accept who they are, there really is far more to unpack within the story. Even with the smallest of snippets from the ‘mean girls’ at the high school or from Iris’ mother getting drunk again and commenting spitefully on how her daughter looks, or when the town’s hairdresser, Hazel, reveals to have an equally mysterious past, they all piece together how the town perceives outsiders, as well as capturing the mindset of the time.
Although the town is filled with possible stereotypes, they are never over dramatized and equally give the main characters room to breathe. Both Kara Haywood and Liana Liberato as Iris and Maggie have great chemistry and each with their own individual character struggles bring a sense of innocence and wonder to the film. Lucas Jade Zumann as lone wolf and object of Iris’ desire, Jeff, deserves a special mention. He’s been racking up credits as the soulful genuine ‘good guy’ but isn’t getting the recognition you’d expect from his great performances.
Although this is director Martha Stephens’ fourth feature, it feels absurd that we haven’t heard more about her previous films. Premiering at Sundance last year, the film was set to be released this year but due to a world pandemic, that was changed, like so many other films. You can watch the trailer HERE and rent/buy the film on various different platforms, well worth the time and effort.
Unlike other stories in the coming of age drama, there is no solid conclusion, in fact there is further destruction and an open-ended mystery. Iris is given hope and we left feeling hopefully for hers and Maggie’s futures. If this was a novel, a possible sequel would be welcome.
To The Stars will be available on Digital Download from 1st June on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Sky, Virgin, Chili