YA saga ‘Everything, Everything’ missing a little something-something
Starring Amandla Stenberg & Nick Robinson
Directed by Stella Meghie
In theaters May 19, 2017
And you think you’ve led a sheltered life.
Imagine being confined to your home day and night, forbidden to step outside, unable to interact with the world—and absolutely barred from seeing the cute new neighbor who just moved in next door.
No, you haven’t been kidnapped, you’re not under house arrest and you haven’t been permanently grounded. You’re just the lead character in the movie version of author Nicola Yoon’s 2015’s young adult novel Everything, Everything, which takes several time-honored, melodramatic girl-meets-boy themes and gives them a new, hormonal-yearning yank.
As she tells us in the opening scene’s voiceover, young Maddy (Amandla Stenberg, who played Halle Foster on TV’s Mr. Robinson and the little tribute Rue alongside Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games) suffers from a rare autoimmune disease that makes the world a serious threat outside her sealed, sterilized home.
“If I went outside, I would die,” she matter-of-factly narrates. So Maddy, who’s about to turn 18, hasn’t been anywhere, or done anything, since she was a baby. She fantasizes about swimming in the ocean, walking in the grass and breathing fresh air. She reads voraciously, absorbing life through the pages of classic novels like Stuart Little, Flowers For Algernon and The Invisible Man.
Her mother (Anika Noni Rose, who plays “Jukebox” on TV’s Power and Dr. Eva Fletcher on The Quad) tries to assure her she’s provided all Maddy needs inside their airtight, irradiated, disinfected, high-tech, art-deco mansion in their leafy suburb of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. “You’re not missing out on anything,” she says.
“Just everything,” replies Maddy.
For her online classes, Maddy builds scale models of places she knows she’ll never go, like a library and a diner—and always puts a tiny model astronaut inside them. She has a thing for the little spaceman; he symbolizes much about Maddy.
Maddy’s never had a boyfriend. She’s never been kissed. She’s never felt the passion, or the pangs, of love. Like the astronaut, Maddy will soon go “out there” herself, all alone into the unknown, exploring.
That’s where cute boy-next-door Olly (Nick Robinson, who starred in the YA sci-fi adventure The Fifth Wave then Jurassic World after his 2013 breakout in the indie hit The Kings of Summer) comes in. Long-haired, dressed head to toe in black and gliding down the street on his skateboard, he radiates adventure and excitement. Olly just moved into the neighborhood with his family. Maddy is instantly smitten. At first they just wave hi through their bedroom windows, then exchange text messages and emails—and pretty soon figure out a way to meet face to face.
And guess what? Maddy doesn’t die. So they meet again, thanks to Maddy’s helpful and sympathetic daytime nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera).
Not surprisingly, Maddy’s fiercely protective mom blows a gasket when she finds out. She fires Carla and forbids Maddy from having any contact with Olly ever again.
“Love can’t kill me,” says a defiant Maddy.
“That’s not true,” counters her mom, somewhat ominously.
And mom doesn’t know Maddy’s gotten approved for a credit card, and airline tickets to Hawaii are a snap to book online.
Director Stella Meghie, whose only other feature was the 2016 comedy Jean of the Joneses, makes everything look posh and pretty, but really doesn’t break a lot of fresh ground when it comes to young-adult conventions, from Love Story to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Fault in Our Stars. Beautiful teen with a fatal disease—check. Forbidden love—yes. Oppressive parents who don’t understand—affirmative. Hokey dialogue (“I loved you before I knew you”)—in there!
Stenberg and Robinson are adorably cute; their scenes together have an exhilarating, untethered, young-love, first-kiss rush and gush, scored to a hip, youthful soundtrack of tunes from Khalid, The Internet, Kehlani and Alabama Shakes, plus a track from Stenberg herself (“Let My Baby Stay”).
But there’s a bit of preposterousness to the whole setup, and the film presents it with even more of a fairy-tale gloss of impossible affluence, coincidence, perfection and only-in-the-movies happenstance. A major plot twist toward the end is a real soap-opera golly-whopper, and the thud of its scorched-earth aftershock rattles the simple charm of an otherwise sweet finale.
Teenagers, the audience for which the film is obviously intended, will probably be able to relate to this tale of young lovers determined to overcome their fate—and perhaps swoon more than once as the screen is filled with displays of their overflowing passion. More seasoned moviegoers, however, will probably find that Everything, Everything is missing a little something-something.