Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article
At long last, Everything, Everything is a film that provides life-support for the tiresome genre of incredulous, escapist romantic fantasies; the kind often adapted from mass-market paperbacks and the drudgery of Nicholas Sparks literature. It's well-written, with two characters that are a pleasure to spend time with for the upwards of 100 minutes, and while it has its fair-share of events that seem plucked out of a travelogue, it never loses sight of its leads, the terrific chemistry they have, or the mannerisms of love that many of us can fondly recall.
The story centered around Maddy, played extremely well by Amandla Stenberg, who has done a lot of growing up since first appearing as the little girl Rue from The Hunger Games. Maddy is an eighteen-year-old suffering from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a disease that largely renders the immune system at the mercy of whatever bacteria and viruses come to attack it. As a result, her doctor/mother (Anika Noni Rose) has padded their house in such a way that prevents outdoor-air from seeping in, hired a nurse named Carla (Ana de la Reguera) to stay with her for much of the day, and goes through the trouble of radiating all her linens as well.
Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose
19 May 2017
Steve's Grade: A-
Maddy's life is a lonely one, mostly consisting of reading books and building model homes for her toy astronaut - which is said to remind her of herself - to inhabit. Things change a bit when a young boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door, with long blonde hair and an aura of charisma. He's taken by her at first sight, curious as to her condition and her inability to leave the house, both details amongst several that he gets answers to during lengthy texting and emailing sessions. The texting scenes play out interestingly, with Maddy and Olly being face-to-face in one or more of Maddy's carefully constructed models rather than distant, separated by panes of glass.
These scenes help bridge the spatial gap yet make us cognizant of one glaring misfortune and that's the fact that the two can't come in physical contact with one another, as Maddy's life would be put at risk. Against her better judgment, Carla allows Olly inside the home so long as the two stay about a living-room's distance apart from one another. The two nonetheless manage to strike up a very personal, amiable relationship that goes on to transcend the limiting bounds of Maddy's home when she musters the courage and gall to break free and test the strength of her organs and immune system.
Stenberg and Robinson (who I initially thought was Still Standing's Taylor Ball crossed with a James Franco smile) are terrific together. Watching the two drum up strong chemistry and solid acting abilities made me consider how much of a rarity this is in most films of the genre. Consider a film like Safe Haven, where you're asked to believe the impossibly gorgeous pairing of Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough just happen to find one another and most everything works out save for one small detail - not to mention the fact that Duhamel and Hough both lacked the ability to wow in their performances. Stenberg and Robinson, however, operate not only like a couple, but a couple with a real burden on their young shoulders.
This is what allows for screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe (who co-wrote the Sparks' film adaptation of The Best of Me) to succeed in crafting this puppy love romance. Because physical interaction is both greatly limited and delayed, Goodloe needs to make a great portion of the film's first half reliant on the mannerisms, behaviors, and conversations the two parties have with and around one another. Stenberg is really up to the task here, moving in a way that shows all the hallmarks of a young girl in love, yet with enough self-assurance and confidence to overcome basic fears, whereas Robinson moves with the deliberate cautiousness of a young man and a young man who doesn't want to harm an already very vulnerable woman. The result is a tender look at the way we treat people under less than desirable circumstances.
Everything, Everything also doesn't work around the characters like so many of these films do. It doesn't go for a sleek visual production or an unnaturally gorgeous locale that undercuts the humans at hand, making them less characters and more vessels to be plugged into the screenplay to do things like sail and ride horseback so majestically. So much of the film is Maddy and Olly doing what many young people in love do - take it easy at first and see where things lead, operating carefully so as not to physically or mentally hurt the other person. Therein lies the realism of this story, even as we transition the setting from southern California to Hawaii and things get a little bit too adorable.
Finally, much has been made about the film's ending, which, from what I understand, doesn't work because it doesn't necessarily take the route of being empowering on an individual level, but rather, has a young woman falling into the arms of a man when she should be making time for herself. Not only is that a fundamentally incorrect expectation to have for what is otherwise a mostly conventional romance movie, but if that were to happen, it would entirely work against the main problem for the film's character - Maddy doesn't have anyone in her life as a confidant or even a close friend and now she does.
Romance films frequently get tripped up during their endings, but Everything, Everything powers through, and as a result and thanks to committed direction by director Stella Meghie throughout, avoids that amongst many other dealbreaking cliches in a stunning attempt to make the genre great once again