October 14th, 2022
MOVIE: STARS AT NOON
STARRING: MARGARET QUALLEY, JOE ALWYN, BENNY SAFDIE, DANNY RAMIREZ
DIRECTED BY: CLAIRE DENIS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
Earlier this year director Claire Denis delivered an enthralling and sumptuous drama in Both Sides of the Blade. It involved a woman that finds herself caught between her lover and her ex-husband, which alone is saucy material, but when you have Juliette Binoche as well that makes any material elevate. Her follow up film, Stars at Noon is not the same kind of movie by any stretch, but it does involve a kind of toxic relationship that draws you in, only I could never connect. Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn star as an American journalist and an oil businessman in 1984 Nicaragua, both surviving and trying to escape a country engulfed in government corruption. What it all amounts to is a lovers on the run drama, displaying Denis’ impeccable style for authenticity, but failing to tell a story worth investing our time in. Stars at Noon is not lighting up the skies.
At first glance the major focus is on Qualley’s character Trish. She’s a late 20’s woman that is generously called a journalist, as she has been living life on the edge, sleeping with military generals to stay out of trouble. She drinks too much, wanders around aimlessly in a dangerous world, and needs a new passport just to leave the country. In her meandering way she stumbles into a hotel, walks up to a bar for a drink, and introduces herself to a lonely businessman named Daniel (Joe Alwyn). The two hit it off and Trish offers to sleep with him for money, but this isn’t just a business affair, but a connection made between two lost souls. They go their separate ways but it’s not the end of their journey and just the beginning.
If the narrative of Stars at Noon were only to follow the escapades of Qualley’s character there would be much more praise to have. The screenplay written by Denis and Andrew Litvack is adapted from the novel by Denis Johnson, which might make for a more interesting read than a movie. The major issue lies within Alwyn’s bland and boring performance, failing to exude any kind of sexual heat, leaving Qualley alone to be the beating heart of the story. As the two maneuver to stay alive, find a place to sleep, or a mode of transportation to get to the border, we’re stuck with a piece of dry bread and a burning hot flame. One can’t set fire to the other without torching the rest.
Before the two go on the run, it starts with Daniel talking with a mysterious man (Danny Ramirez) at a dinner but what Trish knows is that this is an undercover police officer, clearly waiting to take Daniel down. A part of Stars at Noon might be rooted in one character being more exciting than the other, but unlike Denis last few films, High Life, Let the Sunshine In, and the aforementioned Both Sides of the Blade, all elicited a unstoppable sexual tension. That’s less of the case here and more of a journey of two lost souls. Halfway through it starts to wonder why these two are interested in one another other than the fact that they are the only two people around. Denis injects a third character, played by Benny Safdie, as a CIA agent that only propels their chase to another level of stress.
Movies that are the caliber of Stars at Noon would typically be right up my alley and instead it left me with an empty feeling. It goes to show that not all high brow cinema always works and I would admit that maybe seeing Stars at Noon a second time would increase my appreciation for a narrative of this style. Ultimately it just became a strong showcase for Margaret Qualley and a movie lost somewhere out in space.
STARS AT NOON IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND AVAILABLE FOR RENT ON DEMAND.
Written by: Leo Brady