Adolescent girls (and boys, too) are entitled to teen-tragedy tear-jerkers, those Kleenex-soaking tales of the fragility of life and love in an uncaring universe. But that audience deserves better than “Midnight Sun.”
Mawkish, bland and banal, this dreary love story — and it’s no “Love Story” — seems to think it can throw together dying girl and handsome prince, and that’s all there is to it. Without empathetic performances or a script that makes a lick of sense, however, the movie leaves us with an endless stretch of attractive youngsters wooing each other until she valiantly, nobly, shuffles off this mortal coil and a plaintive love song plays over the closing credits.
Our doomed waif is Katie (Bella Thorne), born with a rare, real-life condition known as XP (Xeroderma pigmentosum), which makes it impossible for her to go out into the sun. She’s been home-schooled by her widowed dad Jack (Rob Riggle), she has adjusted her sleep cycle so that she’s up all night and in bed all day, and has lived her life behind specially-tinted windows that have kept the world at bay, all except for her best pal Morgan (Quinn Shephard, “Blame”).
So wait, if Katie can interact with people and leave the house at night, why does almost no one else in her town even know who she is? No reason, really, but you have to accept this premise in order to get to the next part: On graduation night, she goes to the local train station to play her guitar and sing, and who should come along but Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the boy who lives down the street who Katie has loved through her window all their lives. She’s too freaked out to talk to him at first, but he persists, and they start dating.
These are all night dates, of course, but Katie doesn’t want to tell Charlie about her XP because she just wants to be treated as a girl and not as a disease. And while that makes sense, first-time screenwriter Eric Kirsten and director Scott Speer (remaking the Japanese film “Song to the Sun”) milk this understandable deception past the breaking point just so we can eventually get to the date where the two accidentally stay out too late and then (gasp!) have to race the sun to Katie’s house.
This plot would be easier to swallow if delivered by two performers whose romantic sparks ignited the screen with passion, but that’s not what “Midnight Sun” has to offer. Thorne and Schwarzenegger are both attractive yet lifeless here; she can be dynamically funny and bristly as bitchy bad-girls, but as this porcelain figurine, Thorne lacks a pulse. (Shephard’s best-pal character steals every scene with ease.)
And while Charlie talks a lot about possibly attending Berkeley, Schwarzenegger’s performance instead calls to mind Gertrude Stein’s famous observation about Oakland.
There are any number of cringe-worthy scenes, from Thorne’s singularly unconvincing stab at acting “awkward” when encountering Schwarzenegger’s character for the first time to a flat-out-ridiculous moment when Charlie convinces Katie to busk in Seattle — within a few bars, she manages to attract dozens of enthralled onlookers, all swaying and clapping along to this unamplified guitar player. (The songs here are as disposable as the dialogue.)
“Midnight Sun” is never so inept as to be laughable, but if its goals are to induce weeping, it falls short there as well. They’re pretty, she’s a goner, he learns life lessons over her corpse, and the world goes ’round. We’re going to keep getting this exact same story every so often, and it’s likely going to be told far more skillfully than it is here.