The concept of a teenager finally experiencing life for the first time is not new, but it is oddly popular this year, what with this film following the similarly themed The Space Between Us. Space offered a teenage boy who had spent his whole life on a settlement on Mars traveling to Earth, finally able to feel wind in his hair and ocean spray on his face. Everything, Everything offers a teenage girl, Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), confined to her home by illness, who finally ventures out to see what the world is all about, trading life expectancy for experience.
Stella Meghie’s film is wiser, more sharply focused and much better than The Space Between Us, which trivialized its premise and did everything badly. Yet it shares some of the same pitfalls. It is a completely obvious premise which cannot help but transmit most of its plot points and life lessons well in advance. Because its themes are not just easy to recognize but universally accepted its story lacks dramatic power — at least until its one major surprise.
That this story (which would make a fine TV movie-of-the-week) works at all is due to its adorable star, Amandla Stenberg, and the detail with which her female director imbues the setting. Yes, I think a female director definitely helps this story, emphasizing Maddy’s emotional state and feelings rather than plot elements. The film’s success depends on how we identify with Maddy and how we react to her fateful decision to leave the house. Stenberg is cute as a button and evinces just the right amount of vulnerability, mixed with inner strength, to win her audience.
Then we get the big surprise, which, like the big plot point in Passengers last fall, tends to overwhelm the narrative and shift things in different directions. I will admit that the surprise surprised me, but having recently seen Bubble Boy, which features a very similar denouement, I was disappointed. I wish the film (and, evidently the book upon which it is based) had stayed true to its narrative, but that isn’t the case. It’s morally complicated drama, but it’s also an easy out. ☆ ☆ 1/2. 9 June 2017.