Everything, Everything (United States, 2017)

May 18, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Everything, Everything Poster

Everything, Everything, based on Nicola Yoon’s YA novel of the same name, asks the age-old question of which is more important: quality of life or quantity of life? The filmmakers have an undisguised preference for the former or, as Baz Luhrmann once put it: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” However, a movie that begins with an intriguing premise and does a nice job developing it, falls apart in the last act as hard-to-swallow contrivances contort the climax to the point where it’s difficult to suspend disbelief to the degree necessary to buy into what the filmmakers are selling.

The movie, like the 2015 novel from which it is adapted, focuses on Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), an 18-year old girl who lives in a “protected” house in suburban Los Angeles. Maddy is afflicted with a condition called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) – a disease that requires her to live in a sterile environment since exposure to even a minor pathogen or infection can be fatal. The only people she has contact with are her physician mother, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reugera), and her best friend, Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). She spends a lot of time gazing out windows and imagining. Her desire for freedom intensifies, however, with the arrival of a new next-door neighbor. Olly (Nick Robinson) is funny, smart, and incredibly good-looking and Maddy finds herself willing to risk her life in order to fulfill two wishes: physical contact with Olly and seeing the beach in real life.

Everything, Everything begins strongly. Director Stella Meghie effectively creates Maddy’s world, which is a combination of the Internet, large glass windows, and her imagination. The scenes with the life-size astronaut don’t work but the means by which she presents text conversations does. Rather than forcing us to read pages worth of messages, she has the characters recite them as if they were dialogue.

Of necessity, Nick never achieves full three-dimensionality. The story is presented from Maddy’s perspective so we see him as she sees him. We only catch a glimpse of his family problems. He’s initially the unattainable thing then, when Maddy finally achieves her goal of connecting with him, he becomes a plot device to propel her through the latter stages of her story.  It would have been interesting to see things from Nick’s point-of-view, but that’s beyond the scope of the film. In Everything, Everything, he’s a catalyst and love interest but not a co-lead. The interracial aspect of the relationship is treated as irrelevant, which is refreshing. No one comments that Maddy is black and Nick is white; this is important only as a cue that society has moved beyond the point where race is an impediment to attraction.

The last 20 minutes are problematic. The needs of the narrative to establish a clean ending require plot contortions that are neither believable nor satisfying. Perhaps it’s different in the book; the written word, after all, can space out things in ways that a movie can’t. However, although the film’s last-act revelations result in a conclusion without loose ends, they feel artificial and strain credulity.

In casting the leads, the producers opted for two relatively obscure names. Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson are best known for TV appearances although both have had roles in major motion pictures – Stenberg played Rue in The Hunger Games and Robinson was one of the kids in Jurassic World. The two evidence enough chemistry that we can accept their pairing, although the film moves too fast for the sense of longing to come across with much force.

Aside from the narrative issues that mar the ending, Everything, Everything’s evident shortcoming is its impatience. Perhaps because the target audience isn’t used to slowly percolating romances, the movie feels compelled to rush everything. This means that the feelings experienced by Maddy and Olly are forced on them rather than being allowed to develop naturally. Two people who regularly gaze at each other through windows are going to become curious and a form of attraction will germinate but the need to keep the running length close to 90 minutes forces the filmmakers to take shortcuts that don’t enhance the overall experience. As YA romances go – and there are plenty to choose from – this is a lesser option.

Everything, Everything (United States, 2017)

Director: Stella Meghie
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ana de la Reugera, Taylor Hickson, Danube R. Hermosillo
Home Release Date: 2017-08-15
Screenplay: J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon
Cinematography: Igor Jadue-Lillo
Music: Ludwig Goransson
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2017-05-19
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content)
Genre: Drama
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1