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D: Stella Meghie / 96m

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ana de la Reguera, Taylor Hickson, Danube Hermosillo, Sage Brocklebank

The latest romantic drama to involve teenagers, Everything, Everything is a movie that wants to tug at the heartstrings (and this may work with teenage girls, or those with a very low tolerance for this sort of thing), and put across the obvious message that true love is both everything (as the title suggests) and able to overcome any and all obstacles. There’s a definite market for this type of movie, and the bigger the obstacle, the more likely it is that teenage audiences will flock to see just how said obstacle is dealt with on the road to true, everlasting love. Often bearing little relation to the real world, these movies play out in a fantasy land that we can all recognise, but which remains just that: a fantasy land, with clearly observed roles and dilemmas and backdrops. And Everything, Everything subscribes to that idea and that fantasy world very closely.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Nicola Yoon, the movie introduces us to Madeleine ‘Maddy’ Whittier (Stenberg), a seventeen year old who lives with her mother, Pauline (Rose), in their hermetically sealed home. Maddy can’t leave the house because she has Severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a condition that means she has a compromised immune system that makes her extremely vulnerable to infectious diseases; any contact could potentially be fatal. Maddy seems to have adapted to being at home all the time, but she’s not totally alone. She has a nurse, Carla (de la Reguera), who visits every day, and Carla’s daughter, Rosa (Hermosillo), is allowed to come over as well. Otherwise, Maddy is on her own. Things change, however, with the arrival of new neighbours next door, including teenage son Olly (Robinson). It isn’t long before Olly takes an interest in Maddy, and she takes an interest in him. They text, they e-mail, he plays amusing games with a bundt cake. Soon, Maddy wants him to come over, and convinces Carla to allow it.

Olly’s visits give the now eighteen year old Maddy such a boost that she begins to consider what it might be like if she went outside. Before then, her mother finds out about Olly’s visits and puts more draconian measures in place to keep Maddy ‘safe’. But Maddy won’t be put off, and she devises a plan whereby she and Olly will go on a short break to Hawaii. Once there, their relationship develops from a fraternal one to a physical one, but there’s a consequence: Maddy falls ill and is hospitalised. Back home, her mother tells Maddy that there’s no future in her relationship with Olly, as he is bound to meet someone else who isn’t as restricted in her movements as she is. Seeing the logic in this, Maddy doesn’t encourage Olly any further and doesn’t respond to his entreaties to contact him. And then Maddy receives a call that changes everything…

In assembling Everything, Everything, writer J. Mills Goodloe and director Stella Meghie have retained as many of the novel’s fairy tale elements as they can, and in doing so have made a movie that operates at a remove from our own world and in a place that constantly makes the viewer question what they’re seeing. Maddy is the beleaguered princess, locked up like Rapunzel in a glass prison (we see her looking out of windows for most of the movie’s first half). Olly is the dashing prince, come to rescue the princess out of true love (though in a pick-up truck and not on a white charger). SCID translates as the curse that keeps the princess imprisoned, while there are no prizes for guessing which role Maddy’s mother occupies. The parallels are there for everyone to see, and the movie makes no real effort to hide them, but as a result, the movie becomes an easy one to anticipate as it progresses steadily along its time-worn path.

Watching as events unfold, the viewer will likely find themselves asking lots of awkward and annoying questions (annoying because of the frequency with which they’ll pop up). Questions such as, if she never leaves the house, why does Maddy have shoes? Or why does she have a hundred white tops? Or, just how much credit would an eighteen year old be given on her first credit card? And would it be enough to pay for flights to Hawaii, or an obviously 5-star hotel room, or cover their expenses while they’re there? More importantly, if Maddy’s condition makes her susceptible to any and all infectious diseases, how can she or her mother or Carla (or anyone for that matter) be sure they don’t have an infectious disease each time they arrive at the house (going through some kind of airlock at the front of the house just doesn’t seem to cover it). But over and above all these issues, one question will soon be paramount in the minds of viewers everywhere: why don’t Maddy and Olly ever just talk to each other on their phones instead of texting all the time?

Despite all these distractions, Everything, Everything is likeable enough, with a couple of minor fantasy sequences where Maddy and Olly’s text conversations are acted out in Maddy’s head using the backdrops of architectural models that she’s created as part of her home learning. The movie as a whole is brightly lensed by DoP Igor Jadue-Lillo, with the Hawaii sequences (actually shot in Mexico) displaying a crisp, immersive quality, and Meghie, while not called upon to do anything too spectacular, does draw out appealing performances from Stenberg and Robinson. The romantic aspects range from sappy to heartfelt, but manage to avoid any unnecessary gooey sentimentality, and the outcome is never in doubt. All in all, it’s a movie that knows what it’s doing, does it competently enough, and will attract fans who don’t need their movies to be any more complicated than girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-regains-boy.

Rating: 6/10 – another teen romance that brings very little that’s new to the table, Everything, Everything is still watchable, albeit in an undemanding, none too stressful way; sufferers with SCID will scoff at the way it’s portrayed, and the ease with which Maddy and Olly get to Hawaii should raise more than a few eyebrows, but again this is a romantic fantasy drama, and on that level, it’s effective enough for the receptive viewer.