Stars at Noon
Starring Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn, Benny Safdie, and Danny Ramirez
French director Claire Denis is leaning increasingly toward English language films. Typically known for her French language submissions that make a splash at Cannes or international film festivals, Denis is not what you would call a mainstream filmmaker. Her intimate films always explore human connections, whether it be love triangles, space life, or in this case, forbidden associations in a third world. Her “Stars at Noon” has an ever-present pandemic element that already feels dated. Compared to her recent collaborations (Robert Pattinson in “High Life” and Juliette Binoche in “Let the Sunshine In,” the casting of Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn seems like a step backward. Like most of her work, “Stars at Noon” requires more patience from viewers than they might be willing to offer.
Impersonating an American travel writer, Trish (Qualley) jumps from one Nicaraguan bed to another for cash and air conditioning. Her cavalier attitude towards work and life keeps her floating from place to place. However, a few missteps cost her her passport and a way to escape a country that is becoming increasingly challenging and violent. While soaking up rum at her favorite tourist hotel, Trish rubs elbows with a mysterious Englishman named Daniel (Alwyn). Their connection is far more profound than her usual encounters. They both become desperate to leave the country, fleeing for neighboring Costa Rica. Still, his presence in her life instantly starts closing doors once wide open.
It’s only the many sex scenes that Denis seems to take the most care in shooting.
Qualley has her mother, Andie McDowell’s luscious curly hair and her engaging presence on screen. The script doesn’t afford the young actress much in advancing her career. Still, she is singlehandedly the most watchable element of the film. It isn’t enough to make the film universally watchable, but it suggests Qualley’s talent moving forward. On the other hand, Alwyn has struggled to find his footing in cinema since his debut in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” His relationship with Taylor Swift is more of an accomplishment than what we’ve seen from him on screen. Alwyn’s performance here is reminiscent of a 90’s Pierce Brosnan, without the charisma. John C. Reilly has a Skype cameo, and if you stick with the film long enough, Benny Safdie is a cocky CIA agent.
Early in the film, one of the most notable distractions is the musical score by Tindersticks. Equivalent to elevator music, it neither matches the film’s South American tropical vibe nor the circumstances on screen. The first half of the film is also notably plagued by continuity errors, another distraction quickly picked out in the first meeting between Trish and Daniel. “See how quick the tropics zap you,” Trish says. But it isn’t the tropics. The film’s pace and the viewer are in for the zapping. The plot boils down to characters bouncing around a slum city doing mostly uncinematic deeds. It’s only the many sex scenes that Denis seems to take the most care in shooting. The burning cars, scenes with corrupt officials, and the escape sequences seem lackluster by comparison. Denis is never concerned about the general public’s opinion of her films or infusing them with a compelling reason to keep watching.
Director Claire Denis’s slum-love drama is a lackluster affair.