Indeed director Stella Meghie’s (“Jean of the Joneses”) teary-eyed tale of pain and young love in the debilitating drama Everything, Everything may be a well-meaning, symbolic serving of the “fragile-heart-yet-winning-spirit” in the eyes of the targeted impressionable teenyboppers harboring such oscillating emotions. However, for discerning others this manufactured, saccharine-coated, junior-sized Lifetime Movie made for the big screen blueprint is more syrupy than the busy breakfast rush at the International House of Pancakes. In short, Everything, Everything is nothing much in terms of its transparent pathos while awkwardly masquerading as a cuddly teen love story.
There is no doubt that Hollywood has been bulldozing the Young Adult (YA) genre in a shrewd gesture to tap into the vast well of teenage girls and young women looking to identify with (be manipulated) the tortured treasures found in sickness and puppy dog romanticism. Of course the reliable demographic that is being courted toward the sugar-sweet but toothless Everything, Everything came out in droves for the likes of the moderate box office success of yesteryear “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and the global sensation of the “Twilight” film franchise. Still, for every victorious YA offering that registers such as “The Hunger Games” movie series there are countless duds in forgettable fare as “I Am Number Four,” “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” and “Allegiant.” Clearly, Everything, Everything favors the latter more so than the former aforementioned selections.
Naturally, Meghie and the studio backers were confident enough to rally around this flimsy feel-good coming-of-age saga that had potential to draw the interest for the offspring of former ardent “The Notebook” loyalists. Also, it does not hurt that Everything, Everything is based upon Nicola Yoon’s 2015 best-selling young adult novel of the same name. Nevertheless, the flaccid film adaptation — hoping to float upon the swooning texture of Yoon’s printed pages — loses its focus as the thinly-veiled narrative tediously juggles the teenage obstacles of coping and wishful thinking groping (at least when our sickly insulated heroine feasts her fainting eyes on the dreamy neighborhood boy next door).
At the center stage of sympathy is 17-year-old lonely Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg, “The Hunger Games”). The upside is that Maddy is criminally pretty and has all the boundless curiosities in the universe as she eagerly uses her online experiences to connect with the revolving world. Simply put . . . Maddy is your typical teen when it comes to surfing the internet and social media. On the other hand, the downside to Maddy’s compromised existence is that she has no choice but to rely on the internet to feel part of the equation when it comes to fully living. You see, Maddy is an ailing young woman with a rare immunodeficiency disease that does not permit her from leaving the interior of her special-built glass home (where she can at least gaze out and soak up the scenic surroundings from her isolation). Poor Maddy is extremely allergic to everything outside — something that would be deadly if she ever decided to venture out of her safe domicile cocoon. Despite the raw deal that this young lady was handed in life, she remains active, determined and positive in solid confinement with an assortment of books, television, movies and online schooling courses to take her mind off of her restrictive positioning.
The only constant company that Maddy has available is her mother in Dr. Pauline Whittier (Anika Noni Rose, “The Quad” TV series) and maid Carla (Ana de la Reguera, “Cop Out”). The good news is that Maddie can receive visitors as the chamber these few folks pass through for visitation serves as some sort of sanitizing/sterilization unit. Go figure. Otherwise, Maddy maintains her sanity and goes about her business as the confined cutie deserving a statue for her notable outlook. One can assume that there is some great sadness in Maddy as she quietly deals with her unfortunate predicament, but the film is not convincing enough to get that kind of psychological dilemma from Stenberg’s inspired but flat performance.
However, when the engaging Olly Bright (Nick Robinson, “The 5th Wave”) becomes Maddy’s neighbor she soon allows her unfulfilled heart to flutter. The feelings are mutual for Olly as well. Both youngsters commit to the “love at first sight” rule and are soon constantly text messaging and animated gazes through the glass walls are the recurring norms for this unconventional modern-day Romeo and Juliet.
Sadly, there is just not enough dramatic meat on the bone to chew on when considering the tender-and-slender moments in the tripe-ridden Everything, Everything. Screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe’s predictable and spotty script brings nothing fresh, tension-filled or interesting to the creative table at all. In fact, the only thing remotely daring is the coupling of two lost kids from different worlds showing immediate attraction that in the long run may run its course through inevitable triumph and tragedy. Goodloe cannot shake the heavy-handed and tired clichés at large (vulnerable good girl with a heroic dying complex meets slightly misunderstood bad boy). Besides outlining the current situational terminal illness that persists in Maddy, we never get to embrace any genuine insight about what makes this young, soon-to-be legal-aged wounded woman tick outside of her making googly eyes at her prized boytoy-in-waiting. Consequently, the sparks between the mushy Stenberg’s Maddy and the blank-looking Robinson’s Olly have all the edginess of a Mighty Mouse cartoon cliffhanger. Both young performers try to sell the doom-and-gloom fairy tale of adversity and affection ambitiously, but the empty mushiness sinks this puffy-eyed pet project considerably.
Lastly, the damaging dart of creativity for Everything, Everything lies in the obviousness of the lazy, familiar material. Shamelessly ripping off everything from the seventies’ sapfest “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” (this time around with a female lead) to the curious hybrid that is “The Fault in Our Stars” meets “Room” further signifies what a botched effort this loving psychological dreck is. Perhaps we all should join the film’s youthful house-bound leading lady and develop a case of indoor blues — it will at least give us the legitimate excuse not to venture out and see this lightweight love story of underage lonely hearts.
But hey, on the bright side that leaves open the option of multiple viewings of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” am I right?