To The Stars is a commendable attempt at tackling a topic that many period pieces completely ignore: homosexuality. The film makes you look on at humanity and realize that the world is for the most part just disgusting; but within the evil there shines a shimmering beacon of hope.
Martha Stephens' direction is, for lack of a better word, bland. While the film feels like a quaint little town in the 1960s, the activities taking place within it just don't inject much more than establishing that the film does in fact take place in that time period. To be quite frank, the film as a whole resembles what a first time director would conjure up directly out of film school.
When it comes to the plot, it takes on a subject that is rarely ever spoken about in period pieces and risks it all for the shocking ending twist. Iris is the person the entire town seems to target until Maggie comes to town and changes some people's point of view; that is until everything comes crashing down around her. The story flow is incredibly disjointed. One prime example is that the story and each characters' development seems to take place mainly off screen; a character can be the scum of the Earth and then turn around with no explanation and be an (lower level) angel. This happens quite often and similar to other mishaps along the way to the final twist, it can be incredibly distracting from the relationship being built between our two leads. For a majority of people, beyond a few things here and there, this isn't a new concept, as in recent years we've seen this kind of film just not set in this decade.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The film is fueled with hatred coming from all angles from every character besides our two leads and some minor roles around them. The disgusting attitudes toward Iris (Kara Hayward) and Maggie (Liana Liberato) are purposefully intense, but the ruthless bullying packs a little too much of a punch, making the film almost intolerable when any other character is on screen, in fear of what they might do next. Kara Hayward is fair in her role of Iris, and you feel her misfortune from the first scene on to when Maggie comes into the picture, and you can only hope for the best of a bad situation. Liana Liberato as Maggie is by a considerable margin the easiest to connect with, however you soon learn that all the fascinating details she's been spurting may be all manufactured. Tony Hale and Malin Ackerman take on minor roles as Maggie's parents. Hale transforms into a character that personally I haven't seen from him before, while Ackerman is given little to work with - a shame.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Heather McIntosh's score is adequate for the film, but in an honest revelation, it sounds like it was lifted straight from a Hallmark movie of the week. It's generic and feels overly indie, although this can build charm if placed against the appropriate story. Here it seems thrown in to attempt to build more substance and emotion in particular scenes; some of the scenes would have benefited more from absolute silence.
The team behind the production design here absolutely hit it out of the ballpark. The costume design is delightful and the area in which the film is set resembles that of a 1961 town (in the eyes of a person born in the 90s) accurately. Visually speaking, the film doesn't shove the era down our throats, but we are well aware that it is there while the story moves along.
"Similar to how it shares the aesthetic of Hallmark, it'll certainly share a similar audience."
Dismiss everything I've said so far and you've got a delightful period piece with an unbelievable twist, however these large positives can't make up for lousy characterization, choppy editing, and an unsatisfying conclusion - even with a satisfying twist. All in all, To The Stars plays like a competent Hallmark-produced title and certainly not like a big studio production. Similar to how it shares the aesthetic of Hallmark, it'll certainly share a similar audience.