A classic love story with a twist of hope shapes the vision of the new romantic drama “Midnight Sun,” portraying how young love persists in even the most dire of circumstances.
The film, directed by Scott Speer, is a remake of an eponymous 2006 Japanese film. It follows the life of Katie (Bella Thorne), who suffers from the chronic genetic disease xeroderma pigmentosum, which prevents her from having any contact with sunlight. With this tale, Speer wanted the chance to unmask the enchantment and heartbreak that first loves can bring — in the film, Katie falls in love with boy-next-door Charlie, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, in his first-ever leading role in a feature film.
“Bella’s character is someone that can’t go out into the sun, and that’s something that 99.9 percent of us probably take for granted because we don’t have this disease,” Schwarzenegger said. “There’s just little things that definitely just made me reconsider or kind of just pause in my day.”
Schwarzenegger describes his character, Charlie, as the classic “high school jock that has everything going for him.” He may be the heartthrob team captain with a Berkeley scholarship and a high school royalty reputation, but the film sheds light on a different side of this trope.
“In the beginning, you find out he’s a little bit torn inside — he’s lost,” said Schwarzenegger. “He doesn’t really know what he’s going to do with his life now, and it’s kind of through Bella’s character that I’m able to kind of regain that confidence and find myself again.”
The relationship between Katie and her father, played by Rob Riggle, was a major factor that hooked Thorne into getting involved with this project, along with her own personal connections to the character.
“It feels like she already kind of lives somewhere inside me,” said Thorne. “And then I met Scott, and his vision for the movie was so beautiful — we agreed on so many of the topics.” Thorne and Speer both noted how the film is driven by the theme of living your life to the fullest. Thorne called it “truthful as fuck.”
While the actors had an easy time connecting to their characters’ personalities, adopting their characters’ hobbies was another story — Schwarzenegger had to pose as a swimming prodigy despite never having swam competitively, and Thorne had to learn to play an instrument for the role.
“She literally picked up guitar in a week — enough to play the songs in the movie,” Speer said. “The truth is, she had to look convincingly, like she’d been playing guitar since she could walk. I think (she) pulled it off. The music in the movie is a huge component that we’re all really excited about.”
The movie touches on a series of topics commonly featured in romantic dramas — music, athletes’ struggles and family relationships, to name a few. Speer himself has a soft spot for these classic elements, citing “West Side Story,” “Titanic,” “The Notebook,” and “Splendor in the Grass” as some of his own influences and favorites.
“I think the reason we get people to cry is because ultimately there is the hope and the positivity in it,” Speer said. “The disease and all of that are just the stakes of the love story. Ultimately, it’s about two people falling in love and sort of being together, deciding and making the choice to be together come what may, which I think is what we all experience when we fall in love, regardless of the stakes.”
Speer called the movie a “dramatic example” of the universal fervor behind feeling challenged. “It’s like taking people’s general emotions and putting them to an extreme form,” Thorne said. Dealing with the sensitive topic of growing up with a life-threatening disease, the actors and producers made a conscious effort to show the reality of this condition in an empowering light.
“We wouldn’t want to make a movie about something that’s real and make it seem super negative … especially when the people with XP watch it,” Thorne said. “You want them to be happy when they see the film, not like, ‘OK, you’ve taken my life and you’ve put it 50-foot wide on a screen for everyone to see and I don’t like it.’ You just don’t want that.”
“It’s one of the reasons that we make movies,” Thorne continued. “To show the audience the difficulties of life or the happiness or the horrors or whatever it is.”
Ultimately the director and actors alike can’t wait for audience members to have a few lighthearted laughs and maybe shed some tears too. This may be a teenage romance, but its message encourages the idea of “living your life to the fullest,” as the director puts it, and going after one’s dreams.
“I love a movie with catharsis,” Speer said. “I love a movie that makes you think about your own life, but I think ultimately what we all want is for people to walk away with hope.”
“Midnight Sun” opens nationwide Friday.