It’s been two years since Jerry Spinelli’s young adult novel Stargirl inspired a feature film for Disney+ starring singer Grace VanderWaal in her first on screen acting role. Much like her character, VanderWaal charmed audiences with her gentle spirit and always positive outlook on life. Now Disney+ is revisiting the wonderful world of Stargirl with Hollywood Stargirl, an original film from returning director Julia Hart.
While Spinelli has written a follow-up story for Stargirl (Love, Stargirl) Hart and her team opted to take Stargirl in a different direction, setting the film in Los Angeles where Stargirl’s mom Ana (Judy Greer) has taken a job as a costume designer. Hart explains that while she loves the books, she wanted to bring the character into a larger world, “Grace was 14 when we made the first movie. And she was 17 when we made this one. That's a huge difference. And we really wanted to honor both Grace's growth as a young woman and also Stargirl's and how they're different and how they're similar.”
The film also changes the narrative perspective telling the story through Stargirl’s eyes as opposed to the first film which was told from her friend Leo’s point of view. “It was really exciting to just get to have a whole movie through her eyes and her mind,” Hart says. VanderWaal comments on how Stargirl has changed, “I just slowly grow more and more love for her….She's seeing the world, experiencing different things. So, she's still her but I think that the difference in this one is she's just maturing and kind of defining that word of maturity and what it really means to her.”
Los Angeles not only serves as the setting for the movie, but it’s Hart’s home and where she co-wrote the film with her husband, Jordan Horowitz (La La Land). As to why the City of Angels was chosen for the story, she says, “It's funny, originally we were gonna set it somewhere else and then the pandemic happened. We decided to write a love letter to both LA but also all of the people we missed, you know, while we were all stuck at home.” She adds, “I'm, like, grateful that that ended up happening because I think this is ultimately the best version of the movie.”
But it turned out that bringing Stargirl to LA was the perfect move for the character. Hart points out, “Los Angeles is one of the most diverse, eccentric, exciting cities in the world. Stargirl, like, on her first day is already encountering people who are as zany and unique as she is….that was a really exciting part of bringing her out of a small-town setting and into this, like, large, crazy city that we love.”
In addition to the new setting, the film also brings a whole new group of people into Stargirl’s world. Her quickest and most important friendships are with brothers and aspiring filmmakers Evan and Tyrell played by Elijah Richardson and Tyrel Jackson Williams, respectively. Richardson says he shares a lot of similarities with his character, “Honestly, I think that we're exactly alike….We have the same passion.” As for working with his on-screen brother, Richardson comments, “Me and Tyrel actually clicked in the chemistry reading like it's nothing so, you know, he automatically felt like my brother.” Williams adds, “Yeah, it felt so easy and seamless. Like, from the first chemistry read, from the first auditions even. As soon as we got on set, it was just like, oh, it's going to be like this? We have nothing to worry about.”
Their friendships, while natural on screen, took a little time to develop in person. “I think we were really shy. I mean, like I was really shy,” VanderWaal says. Williams adds, “I think it was also a kind of a side effect of the pandemic, too. We knew each other as like, Zoom squares….But after a while we were just like, oh, yeah, this is what it's like to like interact with people again.”
Along with new friends, this film gives us a much clearer look at Stargirl’s relationship with her mother Ana. Ana’s zest for life and living out an adventure begins to feel like an escape rather than a choice. “There's so much opportunity for vulnerability when you're a parent and you have an older child,” Greer says of her character. “[Y]ou have this moment in time…where you can either stop, like, trying to cover up all your faults or you can…just be, like, really open and vulnerable.” Greer focused on her own experience with her teenage stepchildren as she played Ana, “I felt…was remembering a lot of those moments with my kids when I was, like, ‘Well, I'm just gonna tell them this thing now. I can't pretend anymore.’"
Hollywood Stargirl not only presents a new setting and cast, but a new original song “Figure it Out” written by VanderWaal. She’d previously written “Today and Tomorrow” for Stargirl, but that came organically, “it wasn't really a planned thing. I just kind of made it and it just reminded me of the movie and I just sent it to Julia.” For the sequel, Hart asked for her to write something and even requested the title. “I was, like, really nervous 'cause I was like, ‘Oh god, everyone thinks I can do this. And I've, like, never done it before.’ But it worked out. I did it.”
There are several great messages the cast hopes will stick with the aduience. For Richardson the important lesson is, “Running away from your issues or your problems isn't the way to go about things….Taking risks doesn't always mean that you'll fail. You can take a risk and be the most successful person ever. Just be willing to take a risk.” VanderWaal adds, “I think this is something that we all, like, cope with, just our entire lives, is the fact that life is just entirely out of your control. And you can either be really, really upset with that or just kind of roll with the punches and let opportunities open up around you and take that in.” Hart concludes, with “You figure it out as you go.”
Hollywood Stargirl premieres on Disney+ on June 3rd.