There are a few things that make the new romantic drama, Midnight Sun, a must-see. Sure, co-stars Bella Thorne and Patrick Schwarzenegger are adorable together (sadly, they are not an item IRL, but you wouldn't know it from watching the drama.) And, yes, the film is the sort of tearjerker that cleanses you like the first rain of spring. But what really brings Scott Speer's film to life is that it gives the people what they want.
Midnight Sun is A Walk to Remember for the new generation. Thorne's character, Katie Price, grows up battling a debilitating disease called xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) that leaves her fatally sensitive to sunlight. She crushes on a neighborhood boy she's never met, and can only glimpse through the custom-made windows of her home. It's not until later, when she's older and starts going out at night, that she finally meets Charlie (Schwarzenegger) in person. Charlie, unaware that Katie has XP, joins her on an exploration of the outside world, and the two fall a little more in love each night.
"I think the reason A Walk to Remember works is because it slowly but surely peels back the layers on the audience until it's talking directly to them about a shared experience we've all gone through," Speer explained during a press event for the film. "Mandy Moore has cancer in that movie, but it's not about that. It's really about the experience and journey of the characters. That's what I hope our movie comes across as."
It sure does. Katie and Charlie are sincerely likable characters you can't help but root for despite the odds. Thorne and Schwarzenegger offer an authentic depiction of what it feels like to be an awkward AF teenager trying to make this dating thing work. For Thorne, capturing that vibe was easy.
"I'm just, like, a very awkward person in general," she shared. "Actually, in the first cuts of the movie, they didn't have any of those Katie quirks, and our last editor — who's female, just putting that out there — maybe had that feeling, like, 'Hey, that's how I was when I was younger.' So we tried to put that very fun side of her personality in there as much as possible, especially with the situation that she's in."
Showing that Katie was not defined by her disease was a major goal of the film.
"We always said, from the beginning, this isn't gonna be a movie about a sickness or a movie about a sick girl," Speer explained, adding, "When you talk to the people who have XP, it's like Katie says in the movie — they don't want to be a disease. They wanna live their lives. They're awkward around boys. They're everything all of us are. Nobody wants to be defined by the hand they were dealt. You don't have any control over that. What you can control is what you're gonna do about it."
Stuck in her home for the majority of her life, Katie is isolated. She only has one good friend, Morgan (Quinn Shephard), and a supportive dad, Jack (Rob Riggle). While staying inside has led to fewer relationships in her life, she also faces the stigma of having XP. In one flashback scene, a young Katie sits inside watching a group of girls play on the street. Unbeknownst to her, they're also speculating over her condition. Eventually, they decide she's a vampire.
"From my background as well, I think once you have this thing about you, everyone just treats you so differently," Thorne said. "Like you're this untouchable, battered fruit. Your fruit's all bruised. I think that's such a big part of Katie, is feeling just like that. Almost everyone does, I think that's why people keep so many secrets and have skeletons in the closet. They're so afraid you're gonna look at them so differently, and you're gonna treat them like that thing that you're hiding. And we made that very clear in our first meeting as well, because it's important. Especially for everyone with XP."
Meeting real-life sufferers of XP in person is "difficult, for obvious reasons" said Speer, but the three were looking forward to meeting a few such individuals at the film's premiere.
"A bunch of people who have XP have reached out to us recently," said
Schwarzenegger. "One girl sent us a message saying, 'Thanks so much for making this movie, it's brought awareness to the subject and I'm just so happy you guys are doing this,' so we invited her to the premiere."
As a matter of fact, one large XP organization claimed it saw 100,000 site visits in 24 hours as the result of the film.
"The fact that they're getting all of this awareness," Schwarzenegger continued, "that feels successful on our side."
Midnight Sun centers around Katie's life, but Charlie's dedication to her throughout her difficult journey is what keeps your eyes glued to the screen — an element Schwarzenegger appreciated.
"It's a really great love story but it has that uniqueness," Schwarzenegger said. "It differentiates itself from other love stories."
Meanwhile, Thorne was drawn to Katie's close relationship with her father, Jack (Riggle), a part of the film Speer called "the most organic" he had ever seen.
"I just always wanted a relationship like that," Thorne shared. "I grew up with a single mom, so I completely feel where these two characters are coming from, and how much pressure it puts on their relationship. Jack's pretty much given up his whole life for Katie. When you have a single mom, it's like, you don't have help? You have four children? My goodness. Oh, shit. Now the pressure really is on. So I loved that."
A sweet young lady locked up in her home, a charming prince ready to do anything to keep her safe, and an unfixable curse: If this all sounds familiar, that's because...
"It's a fairytale," Speer said. "It's Cinderella, it's Rapunzel..."
"100 percent," Speer laughed. "I believe that all stories are fairy tales, but certainly this is a story for anyone who's felt trapped in a tower and has to watch life go by, which everyone has felt at some point in their lives. Moving to a new high school, or having a breakup and losing all your friends because they all chose the other person. So many relatable, universal experiences in life sort of speak to this."
In Thorne's eyes, the moral of this tale is one she knows all too well.
"Katie is so young, so wide-eyed, so genuine," she said, "and yet she still has this older presence about her. She's raised within death so she knows that every day could be her last. Throughout the movie, we know it's a question of when, not if. I've had so many things happen to me, it's like one day you have something, the next day it's taken away; one day you're awake, and the next day you're not. I look at so many people — my best friends, so many people I know — saying, 'I'll do it tomorrow, I don't really want to put myself out there yet. I'll just wait.' And I'm just like, you're never gonna be happy if you're not living your life."