Book of Stars [2001]

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 (Malone), 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

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