Perhaps there’s nothing worse than a film with a campy premise that takes itself too seriously. Everything, Everything takes it title from a spoiler alert its lead character Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) leaves on her blog as she reviews Flowers for Algernon, another story about a chronically ill character (“Love is Everything. Everything”). This is a dull, illogical, yet sincere and well-meaning drama. Sadly, its core audience should demand more from their entertainment.
The sophomore effort from director Stella Meghie — whose debut feature, the delightful family comedy Jean of the Joneses, enjoyed a healthy life on the festival circuit last year and a well-deserved Spirit Award nomination — Everything, Everything crashes by taking itself way too seriously as it chronicles the young love of homebound Maddy and the boy next door Olly Bright (Nick Robinson). Diagnosed early in life by her physician mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) with a case of Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCID), she’s kept in a modern home straight out of Dwell Magazine, quarantined with CDC-level filtration and sterilization equipment. The film opens as Maddy turns 18 in the only Ebola unit-like hell she’s known. Luckily her mother can afford the best; we’re told early on most children with SCID don’t make it and surely would be in one of those “high-risk” insurance pools we keep hearing about on the news.
One day Olly skates on by Maddy’s room and it’s love at first sight. They begin a texting relationship which leads to imagined conversations within the spaces that Maddy, who has taken several online architecture classes, has imagined. Thanks to her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), who also has a daughter Rosa (Danube Hermosillo) around her age, she’s able to meet Olly on the condition he stays on his side of the room. Naturally that’s not possible and they begin a sweet, yet bland courtship in both physical and virtual space as well as in Maddy’s modest imagination.
Olly and family have moved from Massachusetts to California as his abusive alcoholic father Joe (Dan Payne) can’t seem to keep a job. They must be doing something right if they can keep up an upper middle class lifestyle as they move around the country. At the center of the film is a troubling ethical dilemma: Maddy is essentially Pauline’s captive, although not without an emotional reason. If only Meghie injected a little Hitchcock style into the proceedings to break up the manufactured melodrama. Despite being a homebody with only virtual friends, she does strangely have an iPhone with a talk and text plan, something I wouldn’t think she’d need and when she escapes, the police don’t think to try and ping using a stingray.
Taking place in a magical world where TSA doesn’t exist, Maddie takes a chance, follows her heart, and after applying for credit cards online with no income she’s able to board an airplane without an ID and afford an all-expense paid luxury vacation with Olly in Hawaii where she goes swimming and cave jumping for the first time, along with a lot of hand-holding. It’s unclear if they have sex, a topic the film conservatively avoids in casual conversation, and who knows since the film’s MPAA rating classifies the scene with the vague “sensuality” advisory. What does happen, as you’d expect, is not entirely without consequences.
Everything, Everything is a dull affair that may in fact be faithful to Yoon’s novel. If that’s the case, the film is doing a disservice to its core audience of teenage girls who deserve more films like Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen, full of characters with rich, realistic internal lives and contradictions instead of boiler-plate dialogue free of subtext — except for the scene which provides subtitles once Maddy and Olly begin their awkward courtship.
The drama relies on its two leads to hold our attention, which is proven to be difficult with the on-the-nose dialogue they’re given by screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe, adapted from Nicola Yoon‘s novel. Meghie’s heartfelt and straightforward direction seems more inspired by the adaptations of John Green and Nicholas Sparks novels than great films about containment and freedom — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly this is not.
Everything, Everything is now in wide release.