To the Stars tells the story of two girls coming of age in small town Oklahoma in 1961. The film was about self-acceptance and finding your truth. This review contains spoilers.
To the Stars had an outstanding cast who played supporting roles to the two main characters. The supporting characters had mere hints of depth as they swirled around the two girls, Iris and Maggie.
No one liked Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) because she wet herself. Everyone in Wakita High School called her stinky drawers. The boys harassed her and the girls humiliated her. She wore thick glasses. Her mother (Jordana Spiro) was unkind. Her father (Shea Whigham) was more understanding, but not a strong influence in the family dynamic.
Newcomer Maggie (Liana Liberato) appeared one day. She had rocks and curses for the boys who harassed Iris. She lied about why she was there, and befriended Iris. Her acceptance of Iris brought all the mean girls around to acceptance, too. Maggie’s father (Tony Hale) beat her and blamed her for forcing the family to relocate to this remote town.
The two girls swam in the pond together when they should have been sleeping. They bonded. It was an awakening for Iris to have a friend. Maggie had a car. They ditched school and got makeovers. Maggie took Iris to the doctor and got her pills for her bladder problem. They went to Hazel’s (Adelaide Clemens) beauty shop and Iris got her hair styled.
Iris grew brave enough to talk to a boy she liked, Jeff (Lucas Jade Zumann). Of course, the shy girl with no friends was going to blossom – that was a given from the start of this story about friendship. But Maggie, the defender of misfits, was part of the story that took a tragic turn.
Maggie recognized in Hazel the same secret she carried. She was a lesbian. Maggie returned to Hazel’s late at night. Hazel let her in.
Because of the most contrived story twist ever written, they were seen together. We learn that Maggie’s family had moved there because of Maggie’s love for women causing problems before. The town panicked when the news spread.
I thought we were in for a kill-the-lesbian trope at that point, maybe even kill-a-couple-of-lesbians, but the ending was open. We don’t exactly know what happened to Maggie or Hazel, but there was room for hope.
As for Iris, she was standing up for herself with the creepy boys and sharing kisses with Jeff, who treated her nicely.
The film was directed by Martha Stephens and written by Shannon Bradley-Colleary. I didn’t like the ending, but I thought the rest of the film worked well.
It was watching Maggie struggle to be what her family wanted that was interesting. Maggie couldn’t be what they needed, and in 1961 in small town Oklahoma, that was a serious problem. Perhaps that why the ending wasn’t spelled out. Finding acceptance somewhere for Maggie – and for Hazel – would be difficult. We were left wanting them to be who they were, knowing it was going to be a hard road.
I can wag my finger and complain, but the film was set in 1961 in a small Christian town. Living in Wakita had been the second chance for Maggie and Hazel. Now they had to find another fresh start.
If the ending had been different, less ambiguous, less overlaid with hints of doom, I would be enthusiastic about this film. A film written and directed by women, with two women in the lead roles, is always worth a watch.
It was a beautiful film in many ways. The wide, open shots of the flat fields and land of Oklahoma emphasized how isolated Iris was as she walked alone to school. Maggie, by contrast, was a dust devil in her yellow car, stirring up the landscape.
Have a look at the trailer of this 2020 release. To the Stars is currently streaming on Hulu and available to rent on Prime Video.
What do you think? Are you going to give this film a chance?