Film Review: Everything, Everything

A sick teen who can’t leave her house falls in love with the boy-next-door in this bland but efficient adaptation of a young-adult novel.
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A love story for the ages it is not, nor will it stand amid the pantheon of teen classics. But Stella Meghie’s adaptation of the young-adult novel Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon has the bright colors, the fashions no one will be wearing in five years’ time, the soundtrack full of artists everyone is listening to right now, and the pretty people to make for a successful product. Its consumer base, teen girls, should leave the theatre feeling satisfied. Everyone else might do well to shop elsewhere.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg, or Rue from The Hunger Games all grown up) has an uncommon form of a rare disease that’s made her allergic to everything, more or less. All her clothes have to be irradiated. Anyone who enters her house has to pass through some sort of sterilizing vestibule. Maddy herself hasn’t left since she was a baby. She spends her days watching cat videos, building models for her online architecture class, reading lots of books that offer helpful literary allusions (Flowers for Algernon, The Invisible Man), and bonding with her nurse (Ana de la Reguera) and type-A doctor mother (the always quietly great Anika Noni Rose). She seems happy enough and remarkably well adjusted. Any Little Mermaid yearnings to “be where the people are” are voiced more wistfully than passionately.

But then a cute loner type who wears all black and has floppy hair moves in next door, and it’s love at first thunderstruck gaze through a plexiglass window. After Olly (Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) scribbles his phone number on his bedroom window, the pair begins to text, and a digital romance blossoms. Those who decry technology as an inhibiting force that prevents us from engaging with the outer world have never felt the thrill of a phone vibrating with a message from the Beloved; inward is not where you want to turn. As her feelings deepen, so does Maddy’s desire to escape, until at long last she acts like the normal teen she has always wished she were, and rebels.

There’s no denying the sleek HD visual appeal of Everything, Everything. The film is as attractive as its two leads, and makes much of Stenberg’s beauty, the camera lingering on her face, her body, the magnified pores of her skin, with a gaze nearly and sometimes strangely fetishistic. But the content paired with Stenberg’s looks, like copy opposite a fashion spread, is thin. The story is saccharine, the characters “likeable” to the point of dullness (Maddy admits she has no vices), and the screenplay by The Age of Adaline’s J. Mills Goodloe has a tendency to patronize: Too often, we hear Maddy explain everything (everything) in voiceover, even moments we have just seen dramatized.

Of course, if these are the things you notice, the points on which you harp, if you do not sigh when Olly smiles, or squeal when he and Maddy walk cautiously but inexorably toward each other, it’s safe to say this film was not made for you. Perhaps the most that can be said for it, outside its targeted consumer appeal, is that it ably maintains the “non-issue” aspect of Nicola Yoon’s story. In Everything, Everything, complications arising from their different races are not among the obstacles our lovers face. The interracial aspect of their relationship is a non-issue. Although blandness should not be lauded, that their romance can be treated as bland at all must signal a kind of progress, and perhaps of a more significant kind than if the movie had been more sophisticated. Everything, Everything is for popular consumption, after all.

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