I started reading comic books in earnest around 1981 or so. Soon after, I felt like creating my own superheroes and made up my own characters. One of the characters I “invented” was a girl who could channel solar energy, whom I named Star Girl. Two words. Not very original but hey, I was 12. I had no idea if the name had been trademarked, or even if names made up of already-existing words could be trademarked.
In college, I wrote a short story about that selfsame character. She was still Star Girl (two words), but I was toying with the idea of renaming her “Solara.” Then Toyota started making a car with that name, so I figured screw it, she’ll stay Star Girl (two words).
So, seeing as I had something of a personal connection to the name, I decided to read Jerry Spinelli’s acclaimed YA novel Stargirl (one word). I knew it wasn’t going to be a superhero-type adventure, but thought I might enjoy it anyway. The edition of the novel I had came with a “soon to be a major motion picture” sticker added to the cover. So, I read it and, well, didn’t like it. Hated it, in fact. The story did nothing for me, and I didn’t like the way it was written. (If you liked it, great; I’m entitled not to like stuff.) I wasn’t sure it would make a good movie. I gave the book one out of five stars.
That being said, I kept a lookout for when the film would drop, and it finally did, on the new Disney+ streaming service. (The last book/film comparison I did was for Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes. Loved both; highly recommend). Playing the titular Stargirl was America’s Got Talent winner and burgeoning pop singer Grace Vanderwaal. She’s a pretty good singer-songwriter, especially for someone her age, but I don’t think acting is her thing. Then again, the script didn’t really do her any favors.
Anyway, Disney’s Stargirl (not to be confused with Warner Bros.’ superheroine of the same exact name) is told from the perspective of Leo Borlock, just like in the book. I didn’t like learning about Stargirl through the eyes of Leo in the book, and I don’t like it in the film, either. Not a fan of movies that start with the main character doing a voiceover. Leo’s not very interesting, porcupine necktie notwithstanding. Why Stargirl takes a liking to him, who the hell knows. In the book, she thinks he’s cute; here, who the hell knows.
Movie Stargirl is only moderately quirky, compared to her book counterpart. All movie Stargirl does is walk around in thrift store ensembles, plucking her ukelele and singing songs a kid her age wouldn’t even know existed. “Be True To Your School?” Really? Book Stargirl made up original songs on the fly (we don’t get to hear any of them; just Leo telling us that they were made-up); VanderWaal herself has written original songs, so why is movie Stargirl mining classic rock from The Beach Boys and The Cars? Who the hell knows.
Stargirl the movie plays up the “magic” angle a lot more than the book does. In fact, the film changes quite a bit from the book, as most adaptations tend to do, and they’re not all for the better. Leo’s relationship with an elderly archaeologist comes off even more nonsensical; the way she keeps track of Leo and others, Stargirl comes off kinda stalker-y, to me; Hillari the “mean girl” isn’t really mean at all, she’s just… kinda there. I may not have liked the book, but at least it had depth. This movie don’t.
I didn’t like the book because everyone in it except Stargirl were class-A jerkasses. I didn’t care for the movie as much, because it didn’t do an adequate enough job of pulling the best parts of the book out; it was all kind of too breezy. It felt more like a musical. I hate musicals.
Disney’s Stargirl kind of blows in and out of Mica High School not really changing anything or anyone until after she leaves, and people, Leo included, wonder if she was even real. I don’t think the film teaches us anything new about being ourselves, but it does remind us how awesome old songs are. Disney’s Stargirl gets one and a half out of five stars from me. I’d recommend you read the book instead; you’ll probably like it more than I did.