Teenager Katie Price (Bella Thorne), the main character of Midnight Sun, suffers from a real disease known as xeroderma pigmentosum, but she might as well suffer from movie-star-itis, given how conveniently the filmmakers mold the symptoms of the extraordinarily rare condition to the heavy-handed romantic tragedy they’re putting together. Based on a 2006 Japanese movie, Midnight Sun starts with Katie living a cloistered life, as her disease (shortened to “XP,” so that it always sounds like she’s afflicted with a computer operating system) makes her so sensitive to ultraviolet rays that she can never be exposed to sunlight.
But like the protagonist of last year’s similar (and much more enjoyable) Everything, Everything, Katie yearns for a stronger human connection, especially with the hunky boy across the street. Although she has an extremely understanding, laid-back dad (Rob Riggle) and an extremely understanding hipster best friend (Quinn Shephard), what Katie really wants is to hook up with Charlie (Patrick Schwarzenegger), whom she’s been observing from her bedroom window since they were kids. She gets the chance one night when busking with her guitar at the local train station (you know, like a typical suburban teenager), where Charlie approaches her in his full all-American glory.
Celeb-gossip staple Thorne isn’t particularly convincing as a gawky, awkward girl, and Thorne and Schwarzenegger (in his first major role) are even less convincing as a couple who are head-over-heels in love with each other. Schwarzenegger may have impeccable celebrity pedigree thanks to his movie-star dad and his mom’s Kennedy family lineage, but his acting is wooden and lifeless, and Thorne fares only slightly better. It doesn’t help that the screenplay by Eric Kirsten gives them such bland, clichéd dialogue to recite, and even the normally energetic Riggle struggles with the leaden dramatic material (maybe director Scott Speer should have let him use his comedic talents to improvise a line here and there).
As Katie and Charlie fall in love, she keeps the truth of her disease from him, with excuses about wanting to feel like a normal girl that sound like they’re coming from a defensive screenwriter. The contrivances that keep Charlie from learning the truth culminate in Katie literally attempting to outrun the sunrise, like a vampire in a cheesy B-movie—and only slightly more believable. The disease progresses in a way that allows Thorne to look glamorously ill (but still gorgeous), and the third act descends into Nicholas Sparks-ian melodrama, leading to a predetermined outcome designed to leave the audience in tears.
Not one of those tears is genuinely earned, though, and Speer (whose most high-profile prior feature credit is the fourth Step Up movie) doesn’t bring any personality to his flat, functional direction. Even Nicholas Sparks movies sometimes have their lyrical moments, but despite Thorne performing a couple of original songs in character as Katie, everything about Midnight Sun is completely scrubbed of liveliness and vulnerability. It’s as sanitized and closed-off as the carefully sealed room where Katie spends most of her days.