On March 13, Disney+ will release a film adaptation of Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli’s 2000 contemporary YA novel, Stargirl (Knopf). The movie will be the first live-action film made for and released on Disney’s streaming platform.
First announced in 2015 with Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) attached to direct, the project features a screenplay written by Kristin Hahn, who last adapted Dumplin’. In 2018, director Julia Hart (Fast Color) was tapped as Hardwicke’s replacement; Hart and her husband Jordan Horowitz, who produced La La Land, helped polish Hahn’s script.
Though Joey King (The Kissing Booth) and Charlie Plummer (Looking for Alaska) were originally cast as the two leads, Grace VanderWaal and Graham Verchere (Supergirl) were announced as Susan “Stargirl” Caraway and Leo Borlock, respectively, in 2018.
In her acting debut, VanderWaal, who won America’s Got Talent in 2016 at age 12 with songs written and performed on her ukulele, stars as the eponymous homeschooled sophomore, who causes a stir when she transfers to the local high school in Mica, Ariz. Stargirl dances to her own drummer: she dresses differently from other teenagers, sings happy birthday to students on her ukulele at lunchtime, and magnanimously gives candy and cards to everyone on holidays. Verchere plays Leo, a shy junior who is proud to be ordinary—until he falls for Stargirl and must reckon with the societal pressures of conformity. Karan Brar, Giancarlo Esposito, and Darby Stanchfield have supporting roles.
Spinelli called the adaptation experience “great fun,” telling PW that Hahn “kept [him] in the loop and invited [his] suggestions throughout” the process and that he was able to visit the set in Albuquerque for a few days. “I probably became the world’s first person to decline a chance to be in the movies,” he said about his time on set. “I didn’t want to ‘work.’ I just wanted to hang out and watch and talk with the cast and crew.”
In 2007, Spinelli broke his no-sequel rule by writing Love, Stargirl, published 17 years after the original. Told from Stargirl’s point of view, the epistolary novel picks up a year after the events of the first book. After the Caraways have moved from Mica to Phoenixville, Pa., Stargirl writes letters to Leo.
The prolific author isn’t one to rest on his laurels. When asked about what’s on the horizon, Spinelli said, “I’m working with my editor Nancy Siscoe on a manuscript I recently turned in. Meanwhile, I just finished chapter one of the next one.”