‘Hollywood Stargirl’: Likable Disney+ teen brings some sparkle to Tinseltown

In movie sequel, talented Grace VanderWaal returns as the infectiously sweet singer, now starstruck and lovestruck.

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In “Hollywood Stargirl,” the quirky and kind title character (Grace VanderWaal) is newly transplanted to Los Angeles.

Disney+

Stargirl Caraway from “Hollywood Stargirl” and Rue Bennett from “Euphoria” are about the same age, and they live in the same general area — but they might as well be from separate worlds, given the disparity in tone between the sun-dappled, understated and hopeful Disney+ “Stargirl” movies and the notoriously dark and edgy “Euphoria.” I’m a big fan of the latter series and all its admirable risk-taking, but I like that there’s also room in the Teen Drama Universe for something sugar-coated and light, something uplifting with an almost fairy tale-like vibe.

Something like “Stargirl” (2020) and this sequel, which builds on the previous story and leaves us hoping there will be more feature-length films or even a “Stargirl” limited series, as long as the gifted Julia Hart remains attached as director and the talented Grace VanderWaal returns to play the quirky, kind and enormously likable title character.

Whereas the original “Stargirl” was an adaptation of the Jerry Spinelli novel of the same name, director Hart and her co-writer (and husband) Jordan Horowitz have crafted what is essentially an original story this time in lieu of using Spinelli’s sequel “Love, Stargirl” as the source material. The result is a follow-up that’s at least as strong as the original and builds on the Stargirl character, giving her more notes to play (so to speak) and a more complex personality. What carries over is Stargirl’s infectious personality and her unique ability to make everyone around her just a little happier, a little more inquisitive, a little more willing to lower their defenses and allow themselves to care. She’s … awesome.

‘Hollywood Stargirl’

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Disney+ presents a film directed by Julia Hart and written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz. Rated PG (for some mild language). Running time: 103 minutes. Available Friday on Disney+.

“Hollywood Stargirl” picks up with Stargirl and her mother Ana (the ubiquitous and always wonderful Judy Greer) once again on the road — as they’ve been for most of their lives — this time landing in Los Angeles, where Ana has landed a dream job as the costume designer on a studio film. As they settle into their new apartment in the Los Feliz neighborhood, Ana assures Stargirl they’ll be staying put at least for a year, maybe even longer, which is an almost revolutionary concept for this wandering mother-daughter duo.

Soon after the boxes are unpacked, Stargirl takes out her ukulele and gives herself a musical pep talk in the form of her take on the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil pop classic “Make Your Own Kind of Music” (a Top 40 hit for the legendary Cass Elliot), drawing the instant admiration of her neighbor Evan (Elijah Richardson). This being a “Stargirl” movie, it just so happens that Evan and his older brother Terrell (Tyrel Jackson Williams) are looking for a leading lady for a “sizzle reel” of their movie idea — and Stargirl would be perfect!

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Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal) records with new friend Evan (Elijah Richardson).

Disney+

Evan and Stargirl like to hang out at the bar where Terrell works (don’t worry, Stargirl drinks Shirley Temples) and take in the performances by the local amateurs, and Stargirl is, well, starstruck when she realizes the woman who sits quietly alone every night is none other than Roxanne Martel (Uma Thurman), a singer-songwriter who released one album decades ago and then mysteriously disappeared from the scene. Stargirl wants to use one of Roxanne’s songs on the sizzle reel, but Roxanne says it’s time for Stargirl to branch out from doing covers and well, make her own kind of music, sing her own special song … even if nobody else sings along!

“Stargirl” isn’t a traditional musical, but it’s brimming with catchy tunes, from “Just What I Needed” by the Cars and “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac, to Stargirl’s take on Brian Wilson’s “Love and Mercy” and Blondie’s “Dreaming” to original songs by Michael Penn. Director Hart and cinematographer Bryce Fortner embrace the romantic side of the Southern California locations, creating something of a movie-within-the-movie as we root for Stargirl, Evan and Terrell as they shoot that sizzle reel. We know we’re in for a romance between Stargirl and Evan from the moment Evan tosses pebbles against her window and Romeos her Juliet, but VanderWaal and Richardson are wonderful together and the courtship feels natural.

Meanwhile, it’s a joy to see Judd Hirsch puttering his way through yet another role in which he’s the crusty fussbudget with the heart of gold (he’s been doing this at least since “Independence Day”), while Uma Thurman lends her indelible beauty, down-to-earth charm and sly wit to the role of Roxanne, and Judy Greer brings empathy to what could be a relatively unforgiving role as the free-spirited albeit always loving mother who has let her daughter down one time too many. “Hollywood Stargirl” is smart, family-friendly entertainment with the perfect combination of real-world plausibility and magical escapism.

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