Disney+ is stepping back into the world of Jerry Spenelli’s Stargirl with a slightly grown up sequel to the 2020 hit film. Along for the ride is Julia Hart who returns as director, Grace VanderWaal (sporting a pixie haircut) as Stargirl and several new faces including Elijah Richardson as Evan, Tyrel Jackson Williams as Tyrell, Judd Hirsch as the slightly grumpy Mr. Mitchell and Uma Thurman as musician Roxanne Martel. Judy Greer also joins the cast as Stargirl’s mom Ana Caraway.
While Spinelli has written a sequel, Love, Stargirl, Hollywood Stargirl veers from the literary trajectory to tell an original tale. As someone who isn’t familiar with the books, I really think this movie works. VanderWaal perfectly embodies everything Stargirl is and following the first Disney+ film, this story feels like the natural next step for our titular hero.
Stargirl Caraway is a little older, a little wiser and as optimistic and hopeful as ever. But now she’s even more sure of what she wants and that’s to stay in a place long enough to make friends and really get to know them. She loves adventuring with her mom, but is ready to hunker down for a bit and become familiar with her surroundings. Ana’s latest job has her working as a costume designer on a major film and she promises they’ll stay in Los Angeles for her entire senior year. In the meantime, she has several weeks of summer to take advantage of and Stargirl instantly finds a connection to the City of Angels.
Back at home she meets the landlord’s son Evan who overhears her singing and dancing and he’s instantly under her spell…and she, his. He and his older brother Tyrell are making a movie and they need music for their sizzle reel. She accompanies him to the bar where Tyrell works and despite being underage, participates in the open mic night where she wins over the crowd, Tyrell, and makes an impression on a former musician Roxanne (Uma Thurman) before the manager asks the kiddos to leave.
There are no barriers too big for youth and optimism and Tyrel and Evan want Stargirl to play the female lead in their film. She agrees and the inexperienced trio sets out to get what they need to assemble a sizzle reel. The film follows the aspiring creators around the city lovingly showcasing the uniqueness of LA— lingering at sidewalk cafes and resale shops, walking through a farmers market, popping in on a night shoot and watching the waves roll in along the beach.
The soundtrack is sprinkled with samplings of VanderWaal’s covers both in the background and as part of the story. She’s as mesmerizing as ever and fans will hang on to every note and line. Thurman also contributes with Roxanne’s one hit, but it’s the original song “Figure it Out” (written by VanderWaal) that will stick with audiences not only for its melody, but also its message.
As for the cast, there’s a fondness for each other that seems to extend beyond the screen and everyone’s happiness comes across as genuine. I have a feeling that VanderWaal—just like her character—has a magical effect on everyone she meets. Meanwhile Richardson has the most infectious smile and proves to be great opposite Stargirl; Williams’ positive energy matches that of his on screen brother; Hirsch puts up a rough exterior but shows he’s a softie on the inside and Greer delivers a vulnerable Ana who at first tries to keep up the facade before eventually being honest with her daughter.
For those who’ve been faced with real world challenges, this story is unrealistic in many aspects and feels somewhat like a fairy tale, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Hart and Co. do a great job of convincing the viewer that it could happen with the right attitude and when the right people come together. Despite my bit of cynicism, Hollywood Stargirl still proved to be an enjoyable ride that I’m sure will be an even bigger hit with its target audience.
I give Hollywood Stargirl 4 out of 5 fuzzy red earmuffs.
Hollywood Stargirl premieres on Disney+ on June 3rd