Themes of hope, survival, love, and loss spread like a quiet storm through The Book of Stars, a tale of two sisters (played by Mary Stuart Masterson and Jena Malone). Penny (Masterson) cares for her younger sister Mary (Ma... more »lone), who suffers from cystic fibrosis. "Cares for" is a questionable term, as the hardened, edgy Penny secretly makes her living in the world's oldest profession while popping pills to help numb her from the grim reality of her job and the impending loss of her sister. Mary, a romantic daydreamer who faces her disease with a graceful, knowing spirit, remembers the days when her big sister was a "brilliant" published poet, and she pours her every thought, memory, and dream into a lovingly crafted scrapbook she calls "the book of stars." These old souls with young faces cope with many difficulties, but they discover small joys with the help of a disabled neighbor (Delroy Lindo), a refugee from war-torn Eastern Europe (Karl Geary), and a convict in the state pen (D.B. Sweeney). The film shines through Masterson, whose Penny burns with an underlying intensity that makes the character's conflicted position of duty and resentment feel mighty and palpable. The rest of the cast give gentle performances that match the film's warmly lit cinematography, making The Book of Stars a poignant and delicate watch as well as a showcase for Masterson's talents. -- Shannon Gee« less
"Fascinating movie that I happened to see on IFC or Cinemax. And this coming from a guy who thinks every movie doesn't have enough babes or guns. Anyway, I was transfixed by the complicated relationships between these characters. Everyone had some type of pain in their lives and needed someone else to heal them or give them hope - Mary needed her sister to take care of her and Kristjan as the only one to see her as more than a child, the professor needed the sisters to rescue as a respite from his lonely existance, the convict needed Penny's book of poetry and Mary's kind letters as a way to survive the harsh life of prison, and Kristjan needed to learn how to care again after the war in his home country. And Penny, reluctant Penny, hides from reality and dulls her sense of her responsibility and unfortunate circumstances. She of all requires the most help - the tragic character who is rescued by her sister Mary. Mary is the focal point for the convict, Kristjan, and the professor and she inadvertently magnifies all their hopes and kindness to Penny. That's what I assumed the sun symbolized, Mary shining her indomitable spirit onto Penny, the peripheral characters were the stars. I'm probably reading too much into the symbolism. Excellent performances by all, very moving picture, quiet, imaginative and most of all hopeful...Another movie similar in its quest of surviving the inevitable is Sweet Jane, a gritty drama about an addict adopted by a terminally ill child and how they help each other with life and death."
One of the best movies I've ever seen
Gordon Kearns | St. Louis,, MO USA | 09/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
""The Book of Stars" is a work of art. Director Michael Miner creates beauty and magic within the medium of a big city's mean streets, and out of the lives and spirits of a few of the real and vulnerable people who populate them: a disillusioned poet, a grievously ill teenager, a recovering freedom fighter, an idealistic old professor, a sensitive convict, and even an anonymous lost astronaut. Dope is involved, and prostitution, and death, and heart, and need, and hope, and love - and a fantastic scrapbook kept by a saint. The directing is tight. The visuals are stunning. The music haunts. And the outstanding performances by Jena Malone and Mary Stuart Masterson and the supporting cast of Karl Geary, Delroy Lindo, and D.B. Sweeney are deeply affecting.I highly recommend "The Book of Stars" - one of the best movies I've ever seen."
While life exists, there is always hope
MR ANDREW P COTTINGHAM | Lincoln, United Kingdom | 07/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you don't need tissues long before the end of this story, you have no heart. I bought this DVD because it was one of the recommendations made to me by amazon, and because it starred Jena Malone. Mary (Malone) suffers with the terminal illness, Cystic Fibrosis, or "sister fibrosis" as she called it as when a small child. She lives with her elder sister, Penny, who is a lady of the night. The bond that exists between the sisters is the first heart warming aspect you experience with this film, when Mary snuggles up to her sister in bed, and makes her wake up by forcing open her eyes and then saying "Oh good, you're awake".Then along comes Kristjan, a new neighbour in the adjoining apartment, a refugee from the war-torn Balkan region, whose first experience of Mary is getting a wet head as he stands outside because she over-waters a plant in the window box above. She is struck by him as he turns the event into a magical comedy, producing an umbrella in mock protection of himself, before then revealing the fact that the brolly has a large hole in it, through which he peers at her. When they meet again in a local store, and he accepts Mary's invitation to dinner with her and her sister, the chain of events are set.Mary has a wonderful, dream like vision of life, which she portrays within the pages of a scrap book she calls her Book of Stars. Mary sees only beauty in the things around her, the stars, butterflies, flowers and plants, angels.... Her zest to experience as much as possible in the short life she has left is singled out when she admits to Kristjan that she isn't sad about her fate, and that she believes that exciting things are still going to happen to her, "scandalous things".When out on a picnic, a role-play ensues between Mary and Kristjan, encouraged by Penny, where they again pretend to meet for a first time, at a Society ball. This is then swapped for a bus seat together. At the end of it Kristjan asks Mary to respond to a question. If he is to ask her out, then she must reply if his timing is too soon or too late. He asks her "tomorrow ?", to which Mary replies "too late". It is at this point in the film where Mary's very fragile hold on life is magnified a thousand times over. Tomorrow is too late.The celebration of Mary's 16th birthday inevitably occurs in a hospital bed. Kristjan remembers their role-play, and buys her a beautiful dress, "for the Society Lady". But with a collapsed lung, there is no hope that Mary will now leave the hospital alive. And Kristjan is also bearing the news that his family has now been traced, and that he will be leaving for his homeland. Despite this, Mary carries Kristjan along with her continued zest for life, telling him that his leaving is too bad, and that she was going to ask him out on a date as soon as she got out of hospital. He tells her that he would have accepted. She says she would have worn the dress. And then she remembers how he taught her to say "I love you" in his own language, and in a heart-wrenching moment she repeats those words to him, and he replies the same.This movie has so many other elements to it besides the love story between Mary and Kristjan, and the extra-ordinary bond that exits between Mary and Penny. Watching it time and time again also reveals how Kristjan helps Penny to come to terms with Mary's condition. There is also the Professor, a friend of the girls, who helps them both to cope, providing romantic novels to Mary for her to read, taking her to her clinical appointments, and giving words of wisdom to Penny who doesn't want to hear them, but who fortunately does hear them before it is too late. And the Prisoner, who writes to Penny, inspired by her book of poetry she wrote some time before, particularly a poem about Mary, which was helping him to cope with prison life until his release. Penny doesn't respond to his letters, but he only keeps writing because Mary does respond, pretending to be her sister.The movie immerses you in a vision of life that sparkles and glows, but which always brings you back to earth again as Mary's condition worsens, and those close to her, Penny and the Professor, argue about her care.In the night before her death, Mary finishes the last page of her book of stars, a moving portrayal of herself as a guardian angel looking down on Penny as she stands on the beach where both sisters played together as children.In her death, Mary understands that her book of stars and lovely things will act as a reminder to her sister of what life is really about. For Penny, its very existence helps her to understand that her life has a future without Mary, a life full of hope."
"The Book of Stars"
MR ANDREW P COTTINGHAM | 02/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've watched this movie in two different settings, once on my computer and once at the Spindletop Film Festival in Beaumont, Texas. When I watched on my tiny computer screen it seemed promising, but it was hard to immerse myself completely in the story. When I saw it on the big screen I was awed by its haunting beauty.I've thought a lot about the two experiences since then and realized a few things about the movie. First of all, it is a dreamlike movie of intense realism. You have to suspend your life for two hours, skip trips to the bathroom and the kitchen, turn off the ringer on the phone and immerse yourself in the story. It reminds me of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in this way: if you walked into the middle of "Tiger" you'd ask yourself, "How can these people fly?" because you are not a part of the movie. Similarly, you cannot pass in and out of "Book of Stars", you have to live within the screen for a couple of hours.Secondly, I realized that the production and distribution systems of "Hollywood" rob us of many beautiful stories that will never be seen. Movies that don't fit into a particular niche with a preordained advertising scheme either will not be made or will not be distributed nationally. "Book of Stars" is not easily pigeon-holed and thus was never seen on more than a handful of screens and went straight to video.I highly recommend this movie, only if you are willing to lock yourself in a room and breathe in a story filled with the darkness and beauty of life. It is filled with hope and despair, resignation and longing, love and fear, the things that make our life deeper and more rewarding than a trip to Wal-mart."
Beautiful, mystical, sad, haunting, ultimately uplifting
MR ANDREW P COTTINGHAM | 02/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A true hidden treasure. Should have been an arthouse hit. Gorgeous cinematography, lyrical story, haunting music, a true work of art. Why aren't more movies made with this much attention to both art and craft?"