What women are saying about the sundance nominated film '“to the stars”


Every now and then you see a movie that hits deep.  You know the one.  You can’t stop thinking about it, analyzing it, discussing it with friends, and hoping to see it again so that you can put all the opinions and theories in place. 

To the Stars, a 2019 Sundance Film U.S. Dramatic selection, is this film. 

It is more than just a coming-of-age story.  It is an interesting reflection on social fear. 

Subtle tension pulls at us as we recognize each character is hiding something.  We know how this feels.  Each of us has known the dread of being found out and possibly ostracized by our peers, our town, and sometimes those that are supposed to love us the most.

This film is about teenagers and neighbors in a small town in Oklahoma in the 1960’s. We quickly realize, however, that the story is timeless.  It is the story of our own family, our closest friends, and ourselves.

When we first meet Maggie (Liana Liberato), the joyful look on her face from confronting some town bullies is infective.  We smile along with her and immediately want to be her friend.  Instinctively we know she is the strong one, the hero that will challenge all the societal norms, and the one that will rescue the harassed Iris (Kara Hayward).  But initially, Iris is not too sure, and treads warily.  Iris has been beat down too many times and suffers horribly from fear, constant unease, and nervousness that is so severe, she cannot control her bladder and will frequently wet herself.

Maggie does not realize the bond that will form between the two girls either – at least until she witnesses the mistreatment of Iris by every person around her.  She instantly sees in Iris the social pariah she believes herself to be.  She is immediately drawn to the girl that no one likes (an untouchable) and sets about to help Iris find the social acceptance that she herself craves.

We realize that Maggie hides a tortured soul, and although she covers her fear better than Iris, they are both continually on edge as they daily face the ultimate worry of social and family rejection.

Through it all, these two girls find a way to lift and hold each other.  They form a friendship that is life-saving. For Iris, she is able to find her inner self-acceptance and strength to defy the restraints of “normality” that society has placed on her, and she transforms into a beautiful, strong, confident woman.  For Maggie, she finally accepts who she is, and discovers the courage to make decisions that will either break her or save her.

The hold-your-heart moment comes when Maggie realizes she has to face her fight on her own.  Knowing Iris will never abandon her, she tries to push Iris away, hitting her in the hardest place she can find.  Like Arya kicking Nymeria and forcing her to leave, Maggie does the one thing she believes will break the bond of friendship between the two girls forever. 

Director Martha Stephens and screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary have put together a beautiful film that will keep you reflecting and returning to think about it again and again.  It is a story of transformation and renewal, but pieces are left unresolved, just like in real life. 

The ones we believed to be the strongest and most resilient are the ones that could not find their place. 

They are the ones that rescued but could not shine their own light. 

They are the ones that gave, but ultimately lost. 

To the Stars quietly begs us to see more clearly, and to give each other grace.  We all need it.