Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) is ‘an untouchable’. A weak bladder has led to the unfortunate nickname ‘stinky drawers’, and none of her peers will go near her.
When Maggie (Liana Liberato), the new girl in town, rescues Iris from a roving bunch of bullies, it’s the first act of kindness she’s experienced for a long time. And although Maggie is pretty and instantly popular, she is determined to be Iris’s friend, despite the risk to her own social standing. The more Iris gets to know her new friend, however, the more she realises that there’s a lot going on under her sparkling surface…
To The Stars plunges us into a small Oklahoman town circa 1960, and it’s a world full of repression. The men are silent and surly. The women spend their time in the beauty parlour, gossiping about the dishy new reverend and his ‘scandalous’ cleft chin. Years ago, a woman drowned herself in the lake after vicious rumours touted her promiscuity. The populace are teaming with barely quashed urges, like Iris’s mother (Jordana Spiro): an alcoholic who can’t stop flirting with one of her daughter’s classmates, much to his discomfort. In this town, you either repress your true feelings – and risk having them leak out anyway – or become an outsider. And being an outsider is dangerous, as we see in the film’s tense final act.In a hostile environment like theirs, it’s no surprise that Iris and Maggie – both outsiders, though one of them is better at hiding it – find comfort in one another. Most of all, To The Stars is a celebration of female friendship and the relief of finding a likeminded soul. Whilst on the outside they may seem like opposites – Iris is shy and clumsy, Maggie polished and streetwise – they share an instant bond. Both actresses excel at rounding out their characters beyond the ‘opposites attract’ headline; Hayward is particularly good at portraying the bodily awkwardness and burgeoning confidence of her character – throughout the movie she goes from looking like a hunched-over letter ‘c’ to a loud and proud capital ‘I’, and the transformation is wonderful to watch.
There’s an under-covered genre of southern, female-fronted, coming-of age American cinema that comprises of films like Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias, The Man In The Moon, Wildflower, and Dear Eleanor (which also starred Liberato). These are quiet, tender movies, almost always written and/or directed by women, that privilege the female experience of growing up and finding your place in the world over anything else. Though these films may appear old-fashioned – indeed, they are often set in the past – their social leanings are progressive. They understand that fireworks aren’t necessary when dealing with something as complex and nuanced as the human heart.
To The Stars fits this genre like a glove. Warm, compassionate, and acted with such sensitivity by the two young stars, it’s a tribute to all the outsiders who had the good fortune to find their people, and an encouraging hug for those who have yet to do so.
To The Stars will be available on Digital Download from 1 June 2020