Parents' Guide to

To the Stars

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Poignant, feminist coming-of-age drama set in 1960 Oklahoma.

Movie NR 2020 111 minutes
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This surprisingly touching and well-acted historical coming-of-age drama delves into issues of repression, intolerance, and self-identity. The rural Oklahoma setting is as homogenous and closed-minded as you'd expect for a movie set in 1960: This is a place where difference of any kind is looked on with scorn. So when Maggie breezes into Iris' school and life, she brings with her an air of sophistication, a sailor's mouth, and a sense of self-confidence that even the "cool" girls lack. Liberato does a fine job of expressing a range of emotions as Maggie, and Hayward is equally impressive as folded-in-on-herself Iris, who has finally made a friend. Hale plays against type as a stern father, and Malin Akerman is appropriately cowed as Maggie's beautiful but subservient mother, grace. And Zumann (Gilbert from Anne with an E) is once again an appealing love interest who sees beyond the superficial.

Director Martha Stephens and screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary know how to capture the intensity of young women's close friendships, particularly considering the lack of agency they had in that time and place. Within the confines of their friendship, Iris and Maggie can be committed to truth and loyalty, but in their immediate surroundings, everyone expects conformity -- whether it's a spot on the cheer team, a magazine-approved hairdo, or a promise ring after going a bit too far with a boy. A couple of the plot twists steer the movie into melodramatic waters, and one particular story thread isn't resolved in a satisfying way. But Iris' character arc is one of growth and transcendence, and that's always the point of a coming-of-age story.

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