A nameless protagonist, referred to in the closing credits as The Boy, spends much of Brightest Star staring off into space. Early on, he dazes at the girl sitting next to him in a university astronomy class. Her name is Charlotte Cates (Rose McIver) and her beauty disarms him. He stares at her with puppy eyes, as if Charlotte is a planet and The Boy a space traveler pining to gravitate closer. However, while Charlotte is intelligent and hard working, The Boy pins his hopes to destiny, believing that things will naturally line up and a good life will assemble itself for him in short notice.
With his head in the stars, The Boy is destined for a harsh wake-up call. However, in Brightest Star, the feature film debut of actor-turned-director Maggie Kiley, the conflict and challenges that would normally beset an idealistic lad heading into his quarter-life crisis do not come. Brightest Star is an implausible boy-meets-girl indie drama that is too slight, despite the best efforts of a young ensemble.
We first meet The Boy as he spouts the first of several trite space-related metaphors, describing Charlotte. “Like the stars, the brightest ones are the most fleeting and collapse into the bigger, darker holes.” He is describing his relationship with her, shown in flashback sequences. Charlotte, he says, was his soul mate, the missing piece that made him whole. However, it was a short-lived affair. Lost and lovelorn, The Boy decides to go after Charlotte by committing to doing all the things she would want of him – getting a stable job with a good salary, as well as a sense of purpose and destination. He takes a job working a corporate management job for a stern boss (Clark Gregg) and befriends the boss’s musician daughter, Lita (Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr). Lita also happens to be the receptacle for his stories about Charlotte and the viewer patiently waits for the predictable story intersection when The Boy will fall for lovely Lita.
The Boy is a strange character to centre a film around, and Chris Lowell’s gawky, stilted portrayal does him no favors. Although Kiley sets the story up as one where a passive drifter becomes steadily more involved in his vocation to win back the girl of his dreams, the series of obstacles he faces are resolved either quickly or entirely removed.
We see The Boy staying at home to play video games on his computer and find out that he suffers from poor marks, yet he somehow finds the aptitude to land a good management job (with a liberal arts degree, no less). Similarly, the challenge of courting Charlotte from a study buddy into a girlfriend is quickly resolved with a couple of charming one-liners and a kiss – even though she is with somebody at the time. With an 80-minute running time, Brightest Star is paced too swiftly, avoiding the pivotal scenes where we see the character facing immense conflict and trying to overcome them. The Boy gets the girl, gets the job and finds his footing with relative ease and very little can stop this perpetual lucky streak.
McIver and Szohr are terrific as the spirited objects of The Boy’s affection, exuding that brilliance that would draw his attention. Clark Gregg is also a welcome presence, with his small but potent role as The Boy’s smarmy boss. However, Chris Lowell (who recalls a gawky Ryan Gosling) does not quite have a grasp on the character, coming off as creepy and high-strung around the women characters instead of chaste and charming. When he tells Charlotte before their first kiss, “I believe in moments of clarity,” even Lowell seems skeptical with his character’s momentous nutty level of idealism.
Brightest Star hits its stride late in the film, when The Boy finds himself befriending an astronomer played by Allison Janney. Janney has made a stellar career playing adroit, assured women, and her cynicism about human nature provides an excellent foiling for the Boy’s idealism. Janney has the gumption to deliver a memorable extended cameo, but also the good nature to bring out Lowell’s finest scenes in the film. In short, she is an excellent scene partner.
Admittedly, the film has a few useful insights into the quarter-life crisis and does feature some good performances, but the protagonist’s journey is illogically structured, one buoyed by luck and not circumstance. There is no wonder the character is always gazing vacantly at the sky – the events in his life come together so quickly and with such perfection, you would think it was destiny. With a slackened conflict and a weak protagonist, Brightest Star is a dim and implausible relationship drama.
Brightest Star is a dim boy-meets-girl relationship drama that is low on conflict and charm, despite a relatable premise and a strong young ensemble.