Adapted from Nicola Yoon’s splendid novel of the same name, Everything, Everything is—like most stories—a love story. There is a girl. There is a boy. There are barriers. There is a quest to remove those barriers. There are innumerable films that answer to that description. Whether they are pat and cheesy and trivial or whether they are moving and thought-provoking and exciting basically comes down to the power of the script, the quality of the performances, and the vision of the director. Everything, Everything is one of the best young adult novels I’ve read in the last few years, and it has now been made into one of the best teen films I’ve seen in a while.
Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) is a bright, kind, vivacious 18-year-old girl who has never been outside her house. She suffers from a rare and terrifying condition called Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which basically means almost anything could kill her. Anyone entering the house has to be decontaminated in a sophisticated airlock. Her clothes have to be irradiated, her food sourced and prepared to precise specifications—and she lives in a locked-down, airtight house because just breathing unfiltered air could be a death sentence.
She’s amazingly resigned to this glass-encased life, taking online classes and posting book reviews (especially reviews of famous classics with wry “spoiler alert” messages). She has a great relationship with her mom (Anika Noni Rose), a physician (luckily) and her nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and pretty much no one else. (Dad and an older brother died in a car crash when she was a baby; she doesn’t remember them.) Considering the scary and depressing situation she’s in, she seems to have a pretty optimistic attitude about everything, really.
Until a cute boy named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door, and suddenly the house starts feeling real damn small. The two begin communicating—messages on windows lead to all-night text marathons, phone calls and an increasingly urgent need to meet in person. They obviously can’t, but they obviously do anyway, with an extraordinary cascade of ramifications.
Stella Meghie does an extraordinary job bringing to life a fantastic novel that presented some adaptation challenges—it’s not automatically interesting to watch people think, use a computer, read books, or text other people. Having a principal character who kind of can’t interact with anyone is hard. Wow, does she pull it off, giving us the sense of Maddy’s confinement and her soaring imagination with beautiful and often very witty visual tropes. Scenes that, in a less well-imagined romance, might feel trite or old hat are given immense vivacity and heightened tension by the ticking-bomb feeling we get from knowing what we know about her strange condition.
But as someone who loved the book, I knew everything (everything!) was going to hinge on the performances of the two main characters and their interpersonal chemistry. And if I were Nicola Yoon I’d be thrilled out of my mind by what Stenberg and Robinson did with those performances. Robinson captures Olly’s adorable combination of snarky teen-boy existential angst and romantic audacity. Stenberg is pitch-perfect as Maddy, capturing her curiosity and sweetness, her faint (but escalating) restlessness, her shyness and reserve and her tremendous courage. They both even looked exactly like the characters I pictured in my mind when I read the novel. And their relationship is incredibly alive and magnetic and snapping with potential energy from the first minute they see each other.
This film’s major demographic is teenagers and probably most specifically girl-type teenagers, but I wouldn’t demean it by suggesting everyone-everyone shouldn’t see it. It’s witty and funny and sweet (not in a cutesy way—it just has a big heart). There’s not a lackluster performance in it. (Anika Noni Rose is particularly amazeballs as Maddy’s ultra-cool-with-a-major-shadow-side mom, but everyone down to the smallest role makes the most of their screen time.) A compelling story made from an exceedingly well-rendered book, Everything, Everything feels both contemporary and timeless, both super-specific and truly universal. Like all the good love stories, it’s about all the different transformative energies of love, the generative ones and the destructive ones, the stabilizing and destabilizing, the polarizing and the unifying, the uplifting and the crushing.
Because, as Maddy writes in her review of her favorite book, The Little Prince: “Spoiler Alert: Love is everything. Everything.”
Director: Stella Meghie
Writer: J. Mills Goodloe; Nicola Yoon (book)
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ariana Grande, Morgan Saylor
Release Date: May 19, 2017
Amy Glynn’s interests include pet psychiatry, Peter Gabriel, The New Yorker, Italian wine, Grant Achatz, the President of Paraguay, Federico Garcia Lorca, home beekeeping and serendipity. You can follow her on Twitter.