Like Josh Boone’s The Fault in Our Stars before it, Scott Speer’s Midnight Sun is firmly rooted in the terrain of the weepy, disease-of-the-week television movie. But where Boone’s film is elevated by the chemistry between Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort and their sensitive articulations of grief, Midnight Sun’s disparate tones clot into such a peculiar and exhausting bottleneck that it’s perhaps inevitable that the film’s actors are by and large unable to bring convincing life to their thinly sketched characters.
The film’s whole-hog embrace of melodrama stems from the 17-year-old Katie (Bella Thorne) suffering from xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare skin disease that makes ultraviolet light her kryptonite and forces her to stay indoors during the day, and to be home-schooled by her amusing but overly cautious father (Rob Riggle). But judging from the screenplay’s series of absurd coincidences and contrived circumstances, Katie also appears to be dealing with another genetic predisposition, one that makes everyone fall instantly in love with her on the spot, and in spite of her lack of social graces.
At least her friendship with Morgan (Quinn Shephard), who as a child randomly showed up at the outcast Katie’s doorstep and demanded to be her friend, feels more authentic than her burgeoning romance with Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), their high school’s star athlete. Charlie’s immediate infatuation with Katie, who repeatedly stumbles over her words and trips over herself as she runs away from him, rings false at nearly every turn. But before the audience can even question why the popular and hunky Charlie would actively pursue Katie, or why she would continue to keep him in the dark about her very serious illness once they start dating, the two are head over heels in love, and just in time to make each other’s personal dreams come true before things take an inevitable turn for the worse.
Midnight Sun’s tone vacillates so jarringly between corny, broad humor and unrestrained treacle that it becomes nearly impossible to track any remotely realistic emotional arcs up on the screen. Rather than tug at the heartstrings, Speer yanks at them, and way before the film’s climax, the bevy of Y.A. clichés have piled to a height that’s as staggering as it is cringe-inducing. Although Riggle should be commended for bringing a tender humanity to an underwritten part, the other actors aren’t so resourceful. But as the screenplay never provides their characters with depth or complexity, it’s hardly surprising that these actors are left feeling stranded, half-heartedly going through alternately wooden and over-the-top motions.