Everything, Everything offers some creative flourishes on a fairly typical teen romance that succeeds thanks to its young stars.
Eighteen-year-old Maddie Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency – aka boy in the bubble disease – when she was just a baby, meaning her immune system isn’t strong enough to fight off even the weakest of viruses or infections. As a result, Maddie has been confined to her home her entire life, with the circle of people she’s interacted with in real life limited to three: her mother and doctor (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) and Carla’s teenage daughter Rosa (Danube Hermosillo). To pass the time, Maddie reads novels and writes short reviews online, meets with an online SCID support group, and takes an architecture class for which she builds models.
However when a new family moves in next door with their teenaged son Olly (Nick Robinson), Maddie and he start getting to know each other and she begins to realize the life she’s been living trapped in her home isn’t really a life at all. Through her burgeoning relationship with Olly, which is made difficult due to her illness, Maddie begins to discover what it really means to live her life as she’s set on a course to learn the truth of her world – both within her bubble and without.
Based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, Everything, Everything is a fairly typical teen romance drama, hitting all the basic plot points of the meet-cute, the first kiss, the budding relationship that is threatened by a major conflict, and so forth. In terms of story structure, Everything, Everything is perhaps most surprising in how it manages to add some fresh twists to the typical tragic romance, in which the main character’s relationship is doomed from the start due to their condition – like The Fault in Our Stars or last year’s Me Before You. However, the strength of Everything, Everything doesn’t lie in its twists and turns – and the movie never pretends that those are the most important aspects of the story. Rather, Everything, Everything offers some creative flourishes on a fairly typical teen romance that succeeds thanks to its young stars.
As such, the film focuses entirely on Maddie’s story as told through her character – and makes some creatively inspired choices in doing so. The opening sequence in which Maddie explains through voiceover how her illness has forced her into a specific kind of life is livened up with a cartoon illustrating exactly what SCID means for her immune system. Further, certain shots included by director Stella Meghie (Jean of the Joneses) and cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo (The Kids Are Alright) let viewers experience the world as Maddie sees it, taking time to relish the scenery outside her home when Maddie steps outside for the first time and is allowed to savor it.
However, the most compelling directorial and script choices arrive in the scenes that take place within Maddie’s imagination – especially those that are included to liven up Maddie’s text and phone conversations with Olly. Since Maddie spends much of the movie confined to the same rooms of her home, Meghie and screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe (The Age of Adaline) take viewers inside decorated versions of Maddie’s models, first in a 1950s style diner then in an expansive minimalist library. With the help of production designer Charisse Cardenas (American Sniper), Everything, Everything provides colorful and rich sets that give the actors room to move around and build the relationship, while offering viewers something much more interesting to look at that an on-screen text conversation. These scenes also provide a great deal of levity with visual humor included in the form of an astronaut, the minifigure that Maddie includes in all of her models, brought to life.
Still, these choices all work to support the main core of Everything, Everything, which is the relationship between Maddie and Olly, which wouldn’t succeed without the skill of their respective portrayers, Stenberg and Robinson. Both actors bring equal amounts of humor and vulnerability to a budding romance that doesn’t forget the awkwardness of first love – especially if that first love is shared by someone who has previously only interacted with a total of three people in their life. Maddie and Olly’s relationship may follow a typical movie romance storyline, but it comes to life thanks to the strength of Stenberg and Robinson’s performances, as well as their chemistry together.
As for the supporting cast of Everything, Everything, they aren’t necessarily given much to work with, though Rose as Dr. Whittier is a compelling and somewhat chilling portrayal of a mother with serious problems of her own. Even Olly, outside of his relationship with Maddie, gets only a minor arc concerning his family and physically-abusive father. However, since Everything, Everything is told from Maddie’s point of view – a natural translation of the book’s first person narrative – the film’s superficial portrayals of Carla, Rosa, and even to an extent Olly are a result of the adaptation process. That said, Maddie’s point of view as written by Goodloe, acted by Stenberg, and brought to life by Meghie is strong enough to carry Everything, Everything on its own.
Everything, Everything offers a somewhat unique twist on the tropes of teen dramas thanks to inventive set design, a solid script, and sound performances, but never quite rises entirely above the trappings of its genre. While there are moments of creative filmmaking within Maddie’s coming of age story or her relationship with Olly – for instance, the astronaut come to life in Maddie’s model – Everything, Everything is still a teen romance at its heart, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everything, Everything will no doubt find a captivated audience with fans of the novel and moviegoers seeking a compelling, but not necessarily inventive romance.
Everything, Everything is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 96 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality.
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