While the first Stargirl film was inspired by the original novel by Jerry Spinelli, its sequel, Hollywood Stargirl, is a very different story. While her name was in the title of the last entry, it wasn’t truly her story. This time around, Grace VanderWaal is taking the spotlight with director Julia Hart returning as well. Yet, the rest of the cast and the location has changed to offer a subtler yet heart-warming film. Hollywood Stargirl uses its new location to tell a story of what it’s like chasing your dreams, and even finding out what those could be.
When the film starts off, you know something is different. The narration of the original is gone, and we swiftly get our reintroduction to Stargirl Caraway. While things have changed, some aspects stay the same like her love for singing. We even get to meet her pet rat Cinnamon. What changed is that Stargirl is the center point of the story, and we actually get an inner turmoil of her not wanting to constantly move across the States. Her mother, now played by Judy Greer, promises that she’ll get to at least end her first year.
VanderWaal gives a charming performance once again, but there’s one aspect that definitely stands out. While she still has her quirky moments, it definitely feels quite toned down in comparison to the first. What is pushed to the forefront is her love for money, and she’s become quite a bit more selfish. She isn’t the same girl from Mica, Arizona that did her best to make everyone around her feel better; it’s her time to think about what she wants.
That is especially challenged when she meets brothers Evan (Elijah Richardson) and Terrell (Tyrel Jackson Wiliams), who both inspire her to do the thing she loves, not because it makes someone else happy but because it’s something she adores. It creates a nice change of pace from the first film, as it moves away from the manic pixie dream girl scenario of the first. The trio carries the film, as their filmmaking venture certainly evokes that feeling of what one thought of as a kid: if I never try, I’ll never know.
Yet, it does suffer from a somewhat perfect ending. perhaps it’s a more cynical outlook but most of the drama happens off-screen for this project with one vital moment when things simply don’t go the way Stargirl expected towards the final act of the film. Yet, there’s no real solution that is worked for, but rather something that conveniently falls together as required by the story. It’s a feel-good story at the end of the day, but it doesn’t challenge its characters throughout to push them beyond the way they were at the beginning of the film.
The problem is that most things conveniently fall into the lap of our young trio while the adults seemingly suffer throughout the story. Uma Thurman‘s Roxanne Martel and Greer‘s Ana Caraway are reflections of the core themes yet while everything seemingly goes swimmingly for the new generation, they are the main focus of the drama. Yet, that very drama is something that’s told mostly off-screen with us catching up with them in-between rather than spending time to really get a feeling for what’s going on.
There are definitely teases throughout, most notably with Ana, but it felt more like a set-up than exploring the very emotional core of that experience. It doesn’t take away from the heart of the narrative, which is generally a charming reflection of working to make your dreams come true. Judd Hirsch‘s Mr. Mitchell felt like the perfect balance, as while he’s left that work behind, he’s swept away by the inspirational events unfolding with his neighbors. His place in the story feels like the balance that the others required; an anchor in a way.
Of course, there’s a lot more to this film than just its overarching story. Julia Hart is once again bringing that visual charm from the first but gives it a different visual flourish to stand out from its predecessor. There’s a more mature tone to the sequel that builds upon the visual flourishes of the first but highlights the move from the deserts of Arizona to the unique offerings of California. It’s not a reinvention but definitely an evolution.
The music is once again a highlight, especially with VanderWaal‘s original song “Figure it Out” being a standout in the film. There’s a certain charm to this kind of music that adds a little something to these projects and it’s great to see her once again leave her mark on the film. Though a big part of the film’s charm also lies in composer Michael Penn‘s soundtrack, who took over from Rob Simonsen.
Overall, Hollywood Stargirl focuses more on what made the first film stand out, especially in the heart it brings and the message it conveys. While it does somewhat undermine that very message by keeping a generational focus on success, it still offers a feel-good story that stands on its own to inspire those still trying to find their path. Even with a lack of conflict, there’s a charm in the direction offered and sometimes, especially these days, it’s good if the hurdles laid in front of us can be stepped over rather than requiring a considerable start-up to overcome. Dreams sometimes come true, other times they don’t, but at least one tried.