It was Saturday March 14th, 2020. The world had shut down the day before. I was looking for something to do at home, so I watched “Stargirl”, which had dropped on Disney+ the day before. The feature film adaptation of the popular 2000 novel by Jerry Spinelli starred “America’s Got Talent” winner Grace VanderWaal in the title role of a unique, offbeat high school girl with a spiritual-like presence.
“Stargirl” is a sweet, emotionally powerful movie, with intimate direction from Julia Hart, who also co-wrote the unconventional screenplay. The film earned its spot on my 10 Best Movies of 2020 list.
I was surprised when Disney announced they were making a sequel, but glad to learn VanderWaal and Hart were returning. Unfortunately, they don’t create the same kind of magic this time.
“Hollywood Stargirl” is not based on Spinelli’s 2007 follow-up novel, “Love, Stargirl”. Instead, it features a new (though highly familiar) story. We jump two years from the end of the first film. It’s the summer before Stargirl’s senior year of high school, and she and her mom (played by Judy Greer) have moved again, this time to Hollywood. Mom landed a job as a costume designer for a movie. Stargirl is persuaded by fellow teen Evan (Elijah Richardson) and his older brother Terrell (Tyrell Jackson Williams) to work on their small, self-produced movie. The trio soon goes to work on a sizzle reel. Stargirl will be the female lead and provide the music.
Stargirl’s downstairs neighbor just happens to be a retired motion picture producer. And the mysterious woman who’s always at the club Terrell works at just happens to be a “one-album wonder” singer from the ‘90s. Judd Hirsch and Uma Thurman make the most of their ordinarily-written characters.
The first “Stargirl” avoided most cliches and successfully navigated the tricky tightrope of being heartfelt and touching without being corny and annoying. “Hollywood Stargirl” is packed with obvious storylines and ventures into corny territory much of the time. (It’s also shocking how little many of the characters, who all live Hollywood, know about the movie business.)
What holds the film together is VanderWaal’s performance. Her portrayal of the curious, sincere teen stays true to the original (though her wardrobe gets a mod makeover young girls will crave). She loves to bring out the best in people — a great role model for the 11-15 year old target audience. And “Hollywood Stargirl” features more songs, with performances from VanderWaal (with and without her ukulele) you’ll definitely want to listen to again.
What Hart and the screenplay unfortunately do is take a magical character and ground her too much in reality (though it’s a reality within a fantasy world, as most of the situations aren’t believable). The clash is evident and doesn’t make “Hollywood Stargirl” as satisfying as it should be. There’s also no mystery… or suspense… or legitimate drama until midway through the final act.
The one major element the script gets right is finding this offbeat character a home. In LA Stargirl is fully accepted for who she is. Nobody questions her name. No one thinks she’s odd or unusual. No one wants to intentionally avoid spending time with her. She doesn’t have to convince anyone to like her. This is a nice message for kids (and others) struggling to fit in.
It’s too bad almost everything else in this script could have been written for “any” girl.
LCJ GRADE: C+
Running Time: 103 min.