Review by Sean Boelman
Claire Denis has already released one film this year — the nearly insufferable COVID romance Both Sides of the Blade — so many are hoping that her second outing can be more compelling. Although it lacks a strong narrative, good vibes and strong performances are able to make the romantic thriller Stars at Noon something worth watching.
The movie follows an American journalist and an English businesswoman who strike up a whirlwind romance, only for them to get wrapped up in a dangerous conspiracy. The conspiracy ultimately doesn’t get much explanation, but the romance is charged enough to be sexy and compelling.
Ultimately, the film is really just a lot of sex and Margaret Qualley wandering around the streets of Nicaragua. For those who enjoy Qualley as an actress, then, it’s a pretty enjoyable two-plus-hour watch. There isn’t a ton of substance to it, but neither was there in most of the erotic thrillers of the ‘90s that this is clearly indebted to.
Admittedly, it can be a bit hard to buy Margaret Qualley in this role at times. That’s not to say she doesn’t turn in a great performance — she is as mesmeric and perplexing as ever — but she does feel ever so slightly miscast here. It almost feels like a role that should have gone to someone slightly older, and as a result, it causes the movie to feel slightly cold.
There are also some absolutely bizarre casting choices in the supporting cast. Joe Alwyn plays the main love interest, and he is the only one that makes total sense in his role, because it is largely for the purposes of eye candy. Benny Safdie shows up in the final act almost out of nowhere, and John C. Reilly has literally one scene that is best described as zany and random.
However, despite some of the weird choices and the fact that there isn’t a ton happening in the story, it’s somehow thoroughly enjoyable. Denis’s approach to the story almost feels like we are spiraling down a rabbit hole, and it draws you in as it descends into an absolutely chaotic final act that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Of course, Denis is a very seasoned director, so all of the technical aspects are pretty strong all-around. This is the type of location-based film where much of its beauty is dependent on the gorgeous locale in which it is set. However, the movie does struggle with periodization — it’s set in the modern day, but the novel on which the film is based is set in the past, creating a bit of a disparity.
Stars at Noon probably shouldn’t work, but somehow, all of its elements come together in a way that is thoroughly entertaining. If nothing else, it is much sexier and steamier than any other romance that has come out this year.
Stars at Noon is now in theaters and on VOD, and streams on Hulu beginning October 28.