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  To the Stars A Long Way To Go
Year: 2019
Director: Martha Stephens
Stars: Kara Hayward, Jordana Spiro, Tina Parker, Shea Whigham, Lucas Jade Zumann, Quinn Gasaway, Connor Scott Frank, Andrew Youngerman, Liana Liberato, Natalie Canaday, Madisen Beaty, Lauren Ashley Stephenson, Malin Akerman, Adelaide Clemens, Tony Hale
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Iris Deerborne (Kara Hayward) lives with her parents in early nineteen-sixties Oklahoma, out in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and she feels under the thumb of her mother Francie (Jordana Spiro) who is keen to outshine her daughter at every turn, even as she sews her a dress for the prom Iris has little intention of attending. The reason for that is she is bullied at high school and is considered an outcast there, with nobody keen to talk to her and when they do, it is always an insult thanks to her unfortunate bladder problem that crops up every so often. However, today when she is walking to school and a truck of bullying boys shows up, someone comes to her rescue...

Despite the title, this was not yet another documentary on the Apollo 11 Moon Landings, it was a sensitive drama focusing on the friendship of two misfits who find themselves struggling with their lives for different reasons. The knight in shining armour for Iris is Maggie (Liana Liberato), who is new in town and full of exciting stories about her photographer father (Tony Hale, a far cry from his comedy work) which make her sound very interesting. We can pretty much guess the real provenance of these tales even if we just wonder why a top class shutterbug would be moving out to the sticks, but we appreciate Maggie's attempts to make herself sound more interesting than she is.

Or rather, more interesting than she believes herself to be, as she carries more than one secret that will influence Iris, the first being that her father is wont to beat the girl should she step out of line. Maggie is going through her teenage rebellion phase, but that is tempered by the abuse she gets at home - her meek mother is no help - whereas Iris would never dream of rebelling, her father (Shea Whigham) is strict as well, though he is not violent and is more understanding, he just has no idea of how to show love and support to his daughter, it's not in his personality. As you see, there was a lot psychological going on here for the audience to unpick as the characters went about their business.

Iris, previously entirely closed down to any companionship and desperately lonely, does begin to respond to Maggie, who sees in her a fellow outsider, despite Maggie's demeanour being more outgoing and able to fit in. The reason for that is her other secret, which emerges in the latter half but again, is easily guessable from the way she stands up to the boys and shows an interest in getting Iris a makeover in a slightly out of place romantic comedy kind of way (there are not many laughs in To the Stars), though that does lead to the upheaval in the last act. Yes, we were watching one of those lesbian dramas, yet that said it's not clear that Maggie falls in love with Iris, she merely reaches out to the girl for affection she is not getting anywhere else, and that is only reciprocated to a point.

Iris is not gay, so cannot provide anything sexual for the curious Maggie to consider, so it's the gay best friend trope again from romcoms that director Martha Stephens employs, and it gets more problematic from there as Maggie eventually becomes Schrodinger's Lesbian in the ambiguous finale. This was kind of having its cake and eating it, as the last thing the movie world needed was a gay drama with a tragic ending for all that homosexualist angst, we had seen enough of those and they did not always present a healthy outlook, no matter how well-meaning they may have been, so this film was fatally uncertain of which way it wanted to land. We were supposed to be content that magical Maggie had improved the existence of Iris and leave it at that, so the conclusion was not as progressive as the story seemed to think, but one supposed to make Maggie the heart and soul of the piece would need a serious rewrite. For a while, it featured a pleasing female friendship, and maybe that was enough for its ambitions. Music by Heather McIntosh.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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