With the vaguest of titles, Everything, Everything doesn’t offer a lot of promise by name alone. But is there ever going to be one that can explain the story of a teenager with an immune disorder, falling for the boy next door? Not really, but this very distant Little Prince reference will have to do. And with its mix of basic posters yet heavy load of trailers, this YA adaptation has quite the hill to climb – especially since its lead character can’t even go outside. But does all of that mean this film is a failure from the start? Well no, the case is quite the most lovely (though flawed) of opposites.
The first frame introduces us to Maddy, played by Amandla Stenberg of Hunger Games fame. Taking on the more positive Hazel from Fault in Our Stars type role, Maddy is also sick. But instead of cancer, Maddy has SCID (Severe combined immunodeficiency), leaving her stuck inside her white, bacteria-proof home for the rest of her life. But when a handsome boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves next door, Maddy is instantly smitten. Their relationship from then on challenges her strict lifestyle, and makes her question just about everything – which you can guess results in some typical drama as the story unfolds.
But there’s an element that is not too typical for Hollywood in this case, and that has to do the cast. Not only are the majority of the actors diverse, they are mostly women of color – all of whom are (aside from Maddy’s illness) happy, successful, and have none of the unfortunate stereotypes of Hollywood’s troubled past. Even in the case of the film’s romance, Maddy and Olly’s struggles are never having to do with their interracial relationship, but more of the medical and family issues that come from Maddy’s circumstances.
All of these simple steps forward should be enough to push this film even more into the mainstream radar of movie-goers. But with blockbuster competition at the box office, and the controversy over the depiction of the lead character’s illness, there has to be something even more enticing to get viewers in those seats. Thankfully Everything has quite a few, outside of its Behind The Scenes aspects.
The most important thing to mention is Amandla Stenberg. If you thought “a star is born” situation in the first Hunger Games, her turn as Maddy continues to prove that this young actress has more up her sleeve than we ever could realize. The camera loves her in every frame, which cinematographer Igor Jadue-Lillo captures beautifully, and she makes even the most simple of lines come across as, dare I say, poetic at times. Granted, it is important to remember this is a YA movie, and you shouldn’t expect anything Oscar worthy here. But if anything positive is going to come out of Everything, let it be Amandla Stenberg’s career continuing to rise.
Supporting players Nick Robinson and Ana de la Reguera also do fine performances here, that definitely elevate the material up from the Lifetime levels it could have gone to. Nick plays the heartthrob role much in line with the 90’s era hotties Hollywood wants him to become (so many shades of DiCaprio charm here), and though Reguera’s screen time is short, she leaves a lovable impression.
Yet if there was one role that is slightly unbalanced, and that would be Anika Noni Rose’s Pauline, Maddy’s mother. If you’ve read Everything, Everything, then you probably know the big twist involving this character. Unfortunately, though Rose does a very serviceable job throughout the film’s well-paced running time, there’s something about the end results of her performance that don’t particularly click. This role demands something a bit more intense in the flares of drama than what I saw on screen, which either could be Rose’s or director Stella Meghie’s fault in not getting that across.
But this tiny speck doesn’t ultimately deter from the final product. Sure, Everything, Everything might be full of the typical mushiness and fantastical unbelievability that plagues the YA adaptation genre, but those are the things you come to expect at this point (much like you would a unicorn while venturing through a fairy tale.) Some of the things Maddy gets away with are not at all plausible, nor is the perfection of Olly’s boy band long locks. But when you have a simple fluffy filled story that tugs at the right heartstrings like this one, those things can be pushed to the side.
Ultimately, Everything, Everything might have its flaws in its more realistic angles that don’t make it to the screen. But if you’ve been looking for a Young Adult movie that doesn’t reach too high for the emotional stars and is also making some honest progress, then this might be the one for you. And in a world where we have too many cynical tales of woe being thrown at us, its nice to see a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and even allows itself to think outside its glass walls, much like its heroine does.