FILM REVIEW – EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING. With Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ana de la Reguera, Danube R. Hermosillo. Written by J. Mills Goodloe. Directed by Stella Meghie. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality. 96 minutes.
This season’s “teenager with a possibly terminal illness” movie is here. You didn’t know this was a genre? Well, it’s been around for some time with movies like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “A Walk to Remember,” and “The Space Between Us.” Now we get EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING, and teenagers who have no interest in “Alien: Covenant” this weekend can go to this and have a good cry.
The premise is that Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) has a rare immunity deficiency that has led her mother (Anikia Noni Rose) to keep her safely locked up in their lavish house since infancy. Now 18, most of her contacts are online and she can only dream about being on the other side of the windows that surround her. One day Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door. He’s the proverbial good “bad boy.” He’s not really bad. He just dresses all in black and has no friends because his father keeps moving the family around due to his losing his job.
They start communicating–by texting, naturally–but eventually want to meet. Her nurse (Ana de la Reguera) secretly lets Olly in, and these two misfits fall in love. It’s all very formulaic, including a long sequence where they run away to Hawaii (money doesn’t seem to be an issue here) and she finally gets to experience the ocean. In the film’s most creative sequences their texting is turned into imaginary meetings in the structures Maddy has designed for her online architecture class.
This is Nicholas Sparks territory–with star-crossed lovers who risk it all to be together– adapted for teen audiences where the emotions are raw and the sensuality is as powerful and discreet as demanded by a PG-13 rating. Stenberg and Robinson do their jobs, with the latter simply having to look dreamy, intense, and (as several characters note) in need of a haircut. Stenberg carries the emotional burden for the audience of, presumably, teenage girls, and while one hestitates to predict her future career on the basis of this movie, is a sympathetic and strong protagonist.
However, two points should be made with regard not to her, but how she is used in the film. First, kudos for making an African-American woman the focus of a general audience teen film. The fact that Maddy and Olly are an interracial couple is ignored which is significant given that a couple of generations ago that would have been the point of the film (see “Loving” and “A United Kingdom”). More problematic is that Stenberg’s voluptuousness is used by the filmmakers to make it seem is if having a fatal disease is sexy. She doesn’t play it that way, but the filmmakers certainly do, and they do the young actress a disservice (as well as people who do not become more attractive as they get sicker).
There was a time when Hollywood (and film critics) dismissed films like “Everything, Everything” as a “three hanky movie.” Some of those older melodramas are now highly regarded. It’s hard to see this film being hailed as a great achievement in decades ahead, but we can only judge it for the moment. For teenagers who feel they have discovered passion and love–sentiments apparently unknown to earlier generations–this is a movie that may to speak to them. For viewers to whom the strings being pulled are all too obvious, you may not need any hankies at all.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.