Everything, Everything (2017) by Stella Meghie
Review by Jessica Carr
Love can overcome any obstacle. It sounds too good to be true, but YA books take that notion and run with it. And Everything, Everything is definitely one of those love-overcomes-adversity stories. But for some reason—it doesn’t seem like a farfetched concept here. Director Stella Meghie makes some creative choices with the source material to create a unique YA adaptation with a strong young black female protagonist you can’t help but root for.
The film is an adaptation of a YA book bearing the same name by Nicola Yoon. It follows Madeline Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), a teenager that is diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which basically means she is allergic to everything. Madeline has been confined in her home since she was a baby. She takes online classes, reads lots of books and plays board games with her mom. Maddy becomes less content with her situation both after she turns 18 and when a handsome guy moves in next door. They begin texting each other, and things complicate when Maddy’s nurse lets Olly (Nick Robinson) come in for supervised visits. Eventually, Maddy decides to risk everything and take one last trip to Hawaii to see the ocean with Olly.
Warner Bros. and MGM seem to be jumping on the romance adaptation train. Last year they released Me Before You, another love-overcomes-adversity story with a not so fairytale ending (read my review here). Although that movie was successful at the box office, I’m not so sure Everything, Everything will reach those same numbers. Not because it isn’t a good movie, but because it strays from the common YA conventions that usually make the big bucks in the movie industry. When was the last time you saw a young black female as the lead in a YA novel? Not only is she the lead, but she is also the object of romance rather than just an exotic desire. This was an incredibly refreshing YA book for me to read, and the film had the same effect. The chemistry between the two leads is undeniable which is important for the credibility of the entire story.
I don’t think the casting for Everything, Everything could’ve been more perfect. In the book Madeline Whittier is a kind, curious and intelligent girl. Amandla Stenberg carries herself with confidence even when she starts to fall in love with Olly. She chooses when to be vulnerable with him. Nick Robinson does a good job of being the mysterious boy next door, but he was definitely the weaker character of the two. One small detail that impressed me was the costume design in the film. Madeline was dressed in hip clothes (conveniently placed product placement for Modcloth) that complimented her skin tone really well—she wears a stunning yellow dress and often light blue colors. One of Olly’s quirks is that he always wears black clothes which seem to be a common teenage phase. I think it was an accurate reflection of their personalities which made for a nice detail.
Director Stella Meghie brings some interesting directorial choices to the table. To create a much more enjoyable cinematic experience, she creates dreamlike sequences where Olly and Maddy are talking to each other in building models that Maddy created. They are shown flirting across from each other in a diner while text pings sound in the background letting the audience know in reality they are actually texting. Without this, we would just be watching two teenagers staring at their screens. The sequences add much more charm to the romance. Madeline’s sickness creates restraint between her and Olly. To me, it helped facilitate a longing that made their interactions more meaningful. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always enjoyed a romance that had some sort of sexual tension angle. It was also nice to see Madeline grow into herself as a sexual being. In a scene where she invites Olly to the house when her nurse and mom are both gone is one of my favorites in the film. She wears a low-cut dress and takes charge of the situation while Olly is left in awe. It’s refreshing to see a capable female character in a YA romance.
For most viewers, Everything, Everything will seem like a melodramatic love story. For me, it’s a refreshing film with a strong female protagonist. I didn’t love the ending even though it directly follows the book. It would be wrong to fault Stella Meghie’s direction when she is just following the source material. The conclusion is predictable, but not bad enough to cancel out my love for the rest of the film. It’s OKAY to let yourself enjoy a charming YA romance, especially if it means women like Amandla Stenberg get more lead roles.