July 23, 2017

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Romance with a Twist: The New “Everything, Everything” Movie

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Amandla Stenberg in “Everything, Everything” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Early on in the movie version of Nicola Yoon’s acclaimed YA novel Everything, Everything (an SLJ 2015 Best Book), there’s a clip of the Cher-Nicolas Cage romantic comedy Moonstruck, a tip-off that director Stella Meghie’s retelling aims for the heart, along with humor, tears, agita, and more. For the most part, the film succeeds, especially while the onscreen romance blossoms. After all, the story has the requisite tropes for teen romance: pebbles tossed at a bedroom window, a disapproving parent, and a busybody mediator.

For nearly all of her life, 18-year-old Madeline Whittier (a radiant and game Amandla Stenberg) has lived in a spacious, light-filled home: she has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency. As she bluntly describes it in the book, “Basically, I’m allergic to the world.” Everything she touches has to first be decontaminated, and visitors have to undergo a decontamination process, but as a precaution, her physician mother won’t allow guests. Within Maddy’s inner-sanctum (which wouldn’t be out of place in Architectural Digest), she only has face-to-face contact with a few, including her high-strung helicopter mom (a stern Anika Noni Rose) and her lifelong caretaker, Carla (Ana de la Reguera). That is, until a black-clad skateboarding boy moves in next door, Ollie (Nick Robinson). Through their facing bedroom windows, the teens begin communicating, before moving on to texting.

Though largely set in the air-filtered confines of Maddy’s home, the tone is loose and upbeat as the book’s first-person narrative—and anything but claustrophobic. The director pairs the teens up immediately, through a meeting in Maddy’s imagination. Still, the teens can’t touch, and this aspect of the story works in the film’s favor, increasing tension since Ollie needs to stay physically apart from her, even when he actually appears in person (through the aid of the softhearted Carla). However, after the first kiss, the pace and the momentum inevitably calm down.

Nick Robinson and Amandla Stenberg as Olly and Maddy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Visually, the film opens up Maddy’s inner alternative universe, with a quirky flourish (an astronaut) or two, some animation, and the lushest sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Readers may recall that portions of the chapters are in the form of emails. They’re kept to a minimum here and are seen during their courtship.

However, what is more credible on the page is less so reenacted on the big screen. Because readers rely on Maddy’s thoughts, rationale, and worldview (no matter how limited it is in her high-tech bubble), the novel more credibly throws in a whammy of a twist, which viewers have probably already picked up on, or at least sensed, because of the not-so-subtle performance of one actor in particular—the story device feels straight out of a gothic novel. Without Maddy figuratively walking us through a certain revelation, the audience may not go along for the ride. At the press screening, there was nervous laughter, possibly from viewers feeling played, or out of disbelief.

Nevertheless, fans of the book should see it on its opening weekend for the added communal boost of cheers and applause. Expect it to happen at least a few times.

Directed by Stella Meghie
Rated PG-13
96 min.

Kent Turner About Kent Turner

Kent Turner (kturner@mediasourceinc.com) edits SLJ's DVD reviews and is the editor of Film-Forward.com

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