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EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING

 

Not Enough, Not Enough

Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson
Warner Brothers
 96 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Stella Meghie
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson
C
Everything, Everything

Once again, young female moviegoers and their tear ducts are treated to another example of a tragic teen angst movie, that is, a film in which a likable high school age heroine is seriously ill, dying, or, in the case of this year’s Before I Fall, actually dead, all of which put a significant crimp in the heroine’s daily activities, especially her love life. This time out, in Everything, Everything, (which is not a double-word typo, as my spellcheck would suggest), the heroine isn’t actually ill, dying, or dead, but she could be, thanks to a rare disease from which she suffers.

 

Her name is Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), and the disease is severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which depletes the body’s white blood cells to the point where they cannot fight off infection or build natural immunity. As a result, nearly any common disease could prove fatal. Fortunately, Maddy’s mother (Anika Noni Rose) is a doctor who can monitor Maddy’s condition and has the money to keep their home nearly germproof, with preventative and antiseptic measures that would make the CDC proud. Further, since Maddy’s father and brother were killed in a car accident shortly after she was born, Doctor Mom is able to make Maddy’s health her prime concern.

 

Thanks to the internet and lots of other study aids, Maddy has been able to stay abreast of the outside world as she nears her 18th birthday, but books and YouTube videos can’t prepare her for first love in the form of Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), the new and eminently hunky next door neighbor. After a period of flirting from adjoining bedroom windows, the two manage to exchange cell phone numbers and then engage in some torrid texting. Naturally, Maddy tells Olly about her disease and the possibility that she could die from some disease she contracts from exposure to, or, heaven forbid, actually kissing Olly.

 

Of course, teenage hormones eventually prevail over medical prudence and the two meet. Maddy’s nurse and daytime caregiver (Ana de la Reguera) sets up some strict conditions (Olly must stay on the other side of the room) with no physical contact (see the clip below). Those conditions last about two minutes, and the two continue to meet from time to time, until one day when Olly’s abusive father hits him out in the front yard and a frightened Maddy runs outside to Olly’s defense. Doc Mom figures out what has happened, fires the nurse, and orders Maddy not to seen Olly anymore.

 

Despite Mom’s good intentions, however, Maddy feels that she has to be near Olly, so, with the help of a credit card she managed to obtain online, she and Olly fly to Hawaii, where they can go swimming, jump off high cliffs, and engage in other indoor activities together. Of course, there’s a price to be paid, and it happens a couple of days later when Maddy collapses and Olly has to take her to the nearby hospital, which leads to a visit from an extremely distraught Doc Mom.

 

SCID is a real disease, and it’s been the subject of a couple of other movies before, notably a 1976 John Travolta TV-movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Of course, few people in the target demographic for Everything, Everything are probably even aware of a four-decade-old TV movie. Nor is there any reason that another movie can’t be made about the same disease, which, quite frankly, is quite cinematic. Maddy doesn’t exhibit any disease symptoms until late in the movie, she no longer has to stay in a tiny, hermetically sealed chamber the way Travolta did four decades earlier, and the disease’s curse, that she can never get close to the one she loves, is incredibly melodramatic.

 

Although Maddy’s situation is prime fodder for this type of teen angst melodrama, the way the film handles her disease doesn’t add to the story. Even viewers who hadn’t seen the film’s spoiler-laden trailer could probably guess that Maddy would have a health crisis somewhere down the line, but, before that, her disease is treated primarily as a matter of generating laughs due to the elaborate infection precautions anyone entering the home had to endure and the rather awkward nature of Maddy’s first physical encounter with Olly. In better movies of this nature like The Fault in Our Stars, the story is constantly centered on the heroine’s disease; in Everything, Everything, Maddy’s SCID is more like a bad movie accent that comes and goes from scene to scene.

 

In fact, almost everything about Everything, Everything seems like a plot device in search of a story. Maddy is nearly 18, yet she seems to have emerged from a cocoon as the film begins. The audience learns nothing about how she coped with the disease or even what she did in all those years. While we don’t expect a complete biography, at least some amount of filling in her backstory would have made her seem real. Similarly, Olly seems a knight in shining armor, protecting his abused mother and standing up to a drunk father in a couple of scenes, but that too seems merely a contrivance to get Maddy out of her house. Most teen movies bombard viewers with trivia about the likes and dislikes of their main characters; Everything, Everything seems as aseptic as the house’s environment.

 

Part of the problem may result from the fact that Olly and Maddy communicate almost exclusively by texting. Yes, that’s how teenagers today interact, and, yes, the device probably worked well on the printed page (the movie is based on a popular YA novel by Nicola Yoon), where the author could easily spin chapter after chapter in the form of chains of text messages, but director Stella Meghie (in her big studio debut) couldn’t recreate such incessant texting without boring viewers to death. She actually gets credit for creating some clever visuals like animating the structures that Maddy designs for her on-line architecture class. Meghie enlivens the film considerably through her visuals; it’s the flesh and blood aspects that lag.

 

All of the current crop of teen angst movies are to a certain extent manipulative and artificial, but few more so than Everything, Everything. The lead couple are bright, attractive, and have some good chemistry together, but they cannot overcome the constant sense of manipulation and contrivance that emanates from the movie. The movie looks good but never lets viewers become seriously invested in the characters. Some in the target audience will undoubtedly buy more into the premise than I did, but for others, the movie leaves more of a sense of nothing, nothing than everything, everything.  

In this scene,  Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson get face to face for the first time.

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Everything, Everything (2017) on IMDb

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