Cannes 2022: Stars at Noon
Margaret Qualley and Joe Alwyn make for uninspired romantic leads in this deeply disappointing and stagnant thriller from Claire Denis
In this rare misfire from French master Claire Denis, Denis Johnson’s source material is updated to the COVID-era in an unsuccessful attempt at establishing similar stakes to Nicaragua’s Sandinista period. Trish Johnson (Margaret Qualley) is a journalist who sells herself when her pitches about kidnappings and hangings go ignored by a glossy travel magazine. In a hotel bar, she meets and falls for Englishman Daniel (Joe Alwyn), who claims to be in town for an oil conglomerate but may actually be working to destabilise the government.
As a political thriller, Stars at Noon moves so slowly that it's stagnant. The military may be hot on the couple’s heels, but they’d much rather spend their time lounging naked in motel rooms. As a romance, it’s laughable. Qualley is magnetic but the same cannot be said for her co-star. Alwyn was third choice for this role (after Robert Pattinson and Taron Egerton were too busy) and that speaks to how ill-suited he is.
It’s difficult to buy Trish and Daniel’s intense connection when Alwyn professes his love with all the energy of a fish floundering on dry land. In lieu of chemistry, Denis’ trademark visual sensuality does most of the heavy lifting, often to moving effect. Under moonlight, the camera lingers on bruises left by desperate clawing on Daniel’s back, and period blood on his fingers.
Some verve is injected into the film thanks to a brief cameo from John C. Reilly delivered over a Skype Call, and Benny Safdie makes a memorable appearance as a CIA operative, but it’s not nearly enough to save this work from a filmmaker who’s capable of so much better.
Stars at Noon received its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival 2022