To The Stars is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age story set in 1960s rural Oklahoma and continues the trend of deeply affecting films shot in black and white.
Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) doesn’t have the best home life or school life. It’s no wonder that she chooses to spend so much time by herself at the nearby pond. Between her mother being an alcoholic and everyone teasing her at school, it’s not the best life. Hell, I’d spend all my time alone if this were the same case for me.
Things start to change for Iris when Maggie Richmond (Liana Liberato) moves to town. Maggie has a way of getting Iris to open up and become the young woman she’s supposed to be. While Maggie is bonding with Iris and giving her an extreme makeover, she’s hiding herself from her new friends. Maybe it is her feeling insecure because her prior behavior forced her family away from Kansas City but Maggie chooses to put on an act in front of the popular girls. I get it. Everyone has a way of acting in such a way when needed and for Maggie, it’s being able to fit in with the popular girls.
Maggie makes some decisions that would be perfectly fine for the 21st century but way out of place in the 1960s environment. I won’t say too much about it because of spoilers. I will say that this decision is one of which that leads straight into a scene that could very much be replicated in a horror film—what with all the men carrying baseball bats as if they’re about to kill the Beast.
Both Kara Hayward and Liana Liberato are absolutely phenomenal in this film. If you’ve see their performances in prior films, it should come as no surprise. The care that they put into these characters really comes through when viewing on the screen.
Jordana Spiro is absolutely amazing in this film as Iris’ mother, Francie Deerborne. This is perhaps one of the finest performances in Spiro’s career by far. The former My Boys star disappears into the role that we almost forget that she’s only acting on screen. Meanwhile, Shea Whigham portrays Hank Deerborne. Between the two of them, one can understand why Iris would rather be on their own.
Portraying Maggie’s parents as Grace and Gerald are Malin Akerman and Tony Hale. Let me tell you, Tony Hale isn’t limited to just comedy. What we see from the Veep star in this film is a darker role than what we’re typically used to seeing. It’s a performance that brings us to tears at times.
Black and white movies are a thing of the past. But every now and then, a filmmaker will make the decision to film something in black and white. It either works or it doesn’t. But to Martha Stephens’ credit, the decision to film To The Stars in black and white is a benefit to this film. After all, the 1960s saw the change over from black and white films to life in Technicolor.
DIRECTOR: Martha Stephens
SCREENWRITER: Shannon Bradley-Colleary
CAST: Kara Hayward, Liana Liberato, Shea Whigham, Jordana Spiro, Lucas Zumann, Madisen Beaty, Adelaide Clemens, with Malin Akerman and Tony Hale