Editor’s Note: Everything, Everything opens in wide theatrical release today, May 19, 2017.
Just a few months ago, writer-director Jordan Peele’s Get Out delivered a nightmarish vision of interracial romance, a faux-utopia turned near dystopia for the African-American man meeting his Caucasian girlfriend’s upper-middle-class parents for the first time. It was – and is – a searing indictment, a satirical takedown of the current state of American society, culture, and politics. Adapting Everything, Everything, Nicola Joon’s bestselling, 2015 YA novel, Stella Meghie (Jean of the Joneses) offers something entirely different, a post-racial, utopian fantasy where the obstacles aren’t race, gender, or even socioeconomic status, but environmental and familial. As a YA adaptation, of course, the focus isn’t on social, cultural, or political commentary, but on the presumably universal experience of idealized, romanticized young love. That much it delivers, though it throws away any pretense of verisimilitude from the first moment we meet the central character, Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg).
Maddy and Olly’s first scenes together play out with all shyness, awkwardness, and general confusion of first time meet-and-greets between potential romantic partners. The charm and appeal of those scenes relies heavily on Stenberg and Robinson.
We meet Maddy via the usual YA crutch, voiceover narration, as she gives the audience a guided tour of her life as the equivalent of a “girl in a plastic bubble,” permanently confined in a pristine, antiseptic prison that also doubles as her home. Within the confines of her chic, modernist home – bought and fully furnished with the latest, technologically sophisticated filtering systems by her mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), a doctor – Maddy can roam freely. A sunroom with floor-to-ceiling glass gives Maddy the opportunity to see the natural world (her backyard), but she can never leave. Maddy, we’re told, suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Essentially, she doesn’t have an immune system. Contact with the outside world will lead to Maddy’s demise, so she bides her time, taking online courses, chatting via video conferencing with members of a support group, and leaving brief, spoiler-filled reviews of the grade-school books she’s currently reading.
It’s not exactly an idyllic existence, but it’s the best one an obsessively overprotective Pauline can buy for her daughter. Outside of her mother, Maddy shares a personal bond with her longtime nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera) and Carla’s daughter, Rosa (Danube Hermosillo). Romance only crosses Maddy’s eighteen-year-old mind – an obvious stretch, certainly, but given the reality-challenged premise, acceptable under the circumstances – when a literal boy next door, Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), shows up one day with his family in tow, the newest residents of Maddy’s upscale neighborhood. Olly and Maddy lock eyes across their respective second-floor bedrooms, all but sealing their fates and ours for the next 85 minutes. Given Maddy’s illness, they conduct their romance primarily via text. As they text, Maddy imagines them meeting face-to-face, an idea Meghie handles with a light, deft touch before abandoning it altogether once Maddy and Olly meet face-to-face (or rather across the room, minus any physical contact).
As a YA adaptation, of course, the focus isn’t on social, cultural, or political commentary, but on the presumably universal experience of idealized, romanticized young love.
Maddy and Olly’s first scenes together play out with all shyness, awkwardness, and general confusion of first time meet-and-greets between potential romantic partners. The charm and appeal of those scenes relies heavily on Stenberg and Robinson. Both Stenberg and Robinson keep the pantomime to a minimum, relying instead on subtle facial cues and body movements to convey their respective characters inner turmoil. Eventually, though, those awkward scenes, regardless of how endearing or emotionally truthful they might seem, take their obligatory backseat to a plot that grows increasingly ridiculous and absurd with every new turn, twist, or revelation, ultimately leading to a third-act turn that all but ruins whatever good will the first and second acts earned. By then, however, Everything, Everything’s intended preteen audience (less so their adult chaperones) will be so emotionally invested in Maddy and Olly’s relationship they won’t care about the improbable plot turns, not as long as they get the emotionally satisfying ending they’ve wanted all along.
Add to that 25-30 needle drops – wall-to-wall, contemporary pop songs (from Ari Lennox to Zedd and everything in between, including a one-off contribution from Stenberg) used to underscore and underline every emotional beat, not to mention sell the soundtrack wherever there’s an Internet connection – and Everything, Everything makes the case, however flawed, for the relevancy of teen-oriented romance, especially one where the real-world barriers of race or class (Olly’s family somehow maintains an upper-middle-class lifestyle despite his father’s alcoholism and inability to hold down a job) have been left behind and the only obstacles (family, life-threatening illness) are easier to overcome than they initially appear; “free” credit cards that work more like limitless debit cards also help.
Everything, Everything makes the case, however flawed, for the relevancy of teen-oriented romance, especially one where the real-world barriers of race or class have been left behind.