Summertime brings many things to the cinema. Thrills, frights, explosions, and most of all, love. In the case of Everything, Everything, directed by Stella Meghie, it’s a story of young love that follows an exceptionally predicable narrative: girl meets boy next door, girl loves boy, girl loses boy, but does girl get boy back? While seemingly cookie-cutter, what Everything offers in its adaptation from author Nicola Yoon’s 2015 bestseller is a unique approach to reimagining every step along the journey. It’s this uniqueness that raises Everything above the bunch to deliver a heart-warming tale of growing up.
Suffering from a rare form of immune deficiency known as Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg from The Hunger Games) lives inside a sterilized home that she’s not allowed to leave. Though her mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) offers her encouragement to broaden her mind through books and films, Maddy wants to live beyond her imagination and in the real world. Shortly after her eighteenth birthday, Olly Bright (Nick Robinson from TV’s Melissa & Joey) and his family move in next door. What starts as an innocent flirtation blooms into young love for two people who feel trapped within their circumstances. As much as Maddy wants to live a full life, is she destined to be alone or can she find a way to have everything?
This is the inherent drama of young adulthood. Will I be trapped forever as I am or will I grow into something more? Director Meghie, with Everything being her second feature, tackles this concept beautifully. She has a wonderful eye for detail, composing shots that tell a story in their singularity as much as they do strung together to create a scene. This is particularly important since the staging of each scene takes place primarily within the closed space of a home. There’s an expectation of claustrophobia, using the space as a visual representation of Maddy’s internal strain, however, Meghie imbues each scene with openness. Additionally, the scenes are frequently filled with a natural playfulness. Whether it’s through song selection, the use of subtitles as a representation of Maddy and Olly’s internal thoughts, or simple camera staging, this playfulness exudes joy, infusing Everything with a lightness that makes the expected severity of Maddy’s condition bearable without underplaying its weight or significance.
As strong as the cinematography and staging is, Everything wouldn’t be as delightful as it is without strong performances from the cast. For example, Maddy may be unfamiliar with the world physically, but, through her mother’s encouragement, she’s well-read, intelligent, and highly imaginative. As Maddy, Stenberg radiates her joy and innocence without delving into naiveté and articulates her strength, wonder, and occasional fear through subtle non-verbals and line delivery which is consistently honest. Opposite Maddy is Olly, the newly moved-in boy next door who is initially curious about Maddy before his infatuation sets in. Olly’s straight-forward and a bit brash, which should come across as forceful or coercive in his attempts to inject himself into a conversation with Maddy, yet, Robinson manages to convey pure curiosity that infuses sweetness within each attempt at conversation. This serves the story well as it moves forward because Olly needs to be less of a shining knight to protect a princess and more of a stout partner. The third, and likely most significant, performance comes from Rose as Pauline. While there are several supporting characters, Rose’s Pauline has the most screen time and bears the most impact. Rose offers a dual performance of the stringent matriarch whose rules are absolute, while also conveying a depth of pain and loss that pushes her to a place of isolation out of fear. This duality is imperative to the story as it mirrors Maddy’s dual life of internal freedom through imagination and external detachment from society due to her confinement. Each of the three offers a performance which, through a lesser actor, would make Everything into a typical YA romance.
Unfortunately, none of the above saves Everything from being completely predictable. Audiences will figure out who the good guys and bad guys are quickly, be able to identify what event or choice will occur next, and likely know the end of the film by the halfway mark. Though screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe (The Age of Adaline/The Best of Me) does an effective job of simplifying Yoon’s book to a tight 96-minute film, the overall narrative offers very little in the way of surprises for cinematic audiences. Gratefully, between Meghie’s guidance and the performances, the journey to the predictable moments is incredibly delightful, salvaging a predictable experience by making it a touching odyssey of young love and adulthood.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.