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Review: Like a teenage spin on Todd Haynes, ‘To the Stars’ delivers bittersweet take on the past

Kara Hayward, left, and Liana Liberato in the movie ‘To the Stars’
Kara Hayward, left, and Liana Liberato in the movie “To the Stars.”
(Kyle Kaplan / Samuel Goldwyn Films)

A deliberately paced melodrama set in 1960s Oklahoma, “To the Stars” follows the friendship of two girls headed in opposite directions on the two-lane highway of life. Directed by Martha Stephens from a script by Shannon Bradley-Colleary, it’s a bittersweet story of small-mindedness and self-discovery in a time that may not be all that removed from our own.

Kara Hayward plays Iris Deerborne, an awkward, near-sighted teen beset by a weak bladder, an alcoholic mother, a taciturn farmer father, and a high school ruled by a mean girl and her adoring sycophants. Lonely to the extreme, Iris finds her only escape in a tragically haunted swimming hole where she ponders the night sky.

Into this setting plunges Maggie (Liana Liberato), a seemingly glamorous new girl from the big city — Kansas City, that is. Full of swagger and braggadocio (and a big secret), she cows both the mean girls and the football players, befriends Iris, and gradually tugs on the town’s loose threads until a few come undone.

The characters are mostly standard issue, small-town types inhabited by a good supporting cast that includes Jordana Spiro, Shea Whigham, Malin Akerman and Tony Hale. Adelaide Clemens is especially good in an understated role as a beautician quietly looking for a fresh start.

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Though “To the Stars” shares some period sheen and thematic interests with Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven” and “Carol,” it lacks those films’ crisp execution and bite. But as it floats by on period music supervised by Tiffany Anders and a gentle score from Heather McIntosh, it is a movie that will reward your patience.

‘To the Stars’
Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes

Playing: Available Friday via video on demand


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