Movie date night became a safer place once Nicholas Sparks’ reign of terror finally came to an end last year. Sadly, even with Sparks gone, Hollywood will peddle soft-focus hokum with tragic finales as long as couples like to cry into their popcorn. These movies serve a purpose. Too bad most are as embarrassingly corny as ‘Everything, Everything’.
This teenybopper soap romance may mean well, but it’s cornball in ways that we should be over by now. Amandla Stenberg stars as Maddy, a teen girl who is smart and passionate and kind and gifted, but she has never been able to face the world. The reason? She’s allergic to everything and can never leave her house. Fortunately, she has a wounded, moody and generically attractive teen boy (Nick Robinson) next door who just might be right to set her free (metaphorically and literally, people!). She’s black and always dresses in white. He’s white and always dresses in black. She’s anxious to explore every aspect of the world; he’s desperate for someone to join him on adventures. Both are burdened by less than ideal home lives with parents who just don’t understand (as Will Smith once taught us). Do you think they might be able to escape together? Maybe Maddy will learn that the only thing she isn’t allergic to is love? Who knows?!
To be honest, you’ll know pretty much every story beat from the second this movie starts. Love triumphing through fatal illness is an old romance cliché. It made a comeback with ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ a few summers ago and ever since, studios have been hoping to recapture the magic. ‘Everything, Everything’ is the latest knockoff and the least believable (well, unless you count ‘The Space Between Us’ from a few months back, which did this same general concept with swapped genders and a spaceman subplot).
The movie works best during the star-crossed lovers opening passages. She writes about how “Love is everything, everything” in a blog post. He’s touched and sends text messages of seduction. Their love grows through secret conversations and the help of a caring nurse. You know the routine. Stella Meghie directs with soft lighting sincerity and the young stars are just generically pretty enough (in a teen magazine photo shoot way) to fill in the images. Emotion bubbles up between the clichés, no matter how manipulative.
Of course, love eventually blossoms, the movie turns into a gentle lovers-on-the-run tale, and blah blah blah… It all descends into even soapier nonsense. It’s ultimately just a bunch of hokum with the depth and emotional honesty of a greeting card – the sort of thing that will inspire a thousand eye rolls, even just in trailer form. However, that might only be true for those who have been down this path and seen these stories in hundreds of movies (“of the week” and otherwise) before. For the highly hormonal and achingly emotional ‘tween-to-teen target audience, the magic might work. The lead actors are quite watchable and the whole silly mess is made with style and sincerity. Those youngstes out there who consider impossible teen romance the height of cinematic storytelling might get their kicks. Everyone else should just quietly back away. It’s not for us and there’s no need to pretend that our opinions matter… even if ‘Everything, Everything’ is a big heaping pile of cheesy hogwash.