By Richard Roeper
Directed by Stella Meghie
SOME 41 YEARS after John Travolta played The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and 25 years after the debut of the famous “Bubble Boy” episode of Seinfeld, here comes The Girl in the Bubble-Brained Movie.
Virtually every single element in Everything, Everything rings false and manipulative — and that’s BEFORE we get to a big reveal so contrived, so insanely implausible, so monstrously tone-deaf, we can see the entire movie plunging off a cliff, landing with a sickening thud in the Land of the Worst Movies of the Year.
I believe this movie has pure intentions. I believe the filmmakers and the cast set out to make a sweet, teen-friendly romance based on the young adult novel by Nicola Yoon.
Yet the story is spun in such a way we’re constantly thinking, “OK, wait a minute.” The characters are thinly drawn, and their reactions to various developments are wildly out of tune with what we would expect from actual human beings in those situations.
Everything, Everything is told from the point of view of 18-year-old Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who hasn’t been out of the house since she was an infant because she has a rare form of an autoimmune disease. Mere exposure to the outside air could literally kill her.
Maddy spends her days and nights in a comfortable, spacious, vacuum-sealed home that provides lovely but of course immensely frustrating views of the beautiful Southern California world on the other side of the glass.
Anika Noni Rose plays Maddy’s mother, Pauline, a doctor who rushes home from work each night to tend to Maddy’s medical needs and to make sure Maddy doesn’t even think about leaving the house.
Other than Mom, Maddy has had direct human contact with only two other people in her life: the kindly nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) and Carla’s teenage daughter, Rosa (Danube Hermosillo). They’re allowed into the home on a regular basis, and after scrubbing up and taking other precautions, they can hang out with Maddy just fine.
So wait a minute. If that’s the case, why can’t Maddy have other visitors? Why has she been allowed just the one nurse and the one friend for nearly 18 years? We know Maddy’s father and brother were killed in a car crash just after Maddy was born, but doesn’t Maddy have any other family who would want to visit? If Maddy has survived hundreds of visits from Nurse Carla and Rosa, why wouldn’t her mother allow the girl to have other human interaction? What’s the deal, Mom?
Ah, but then along comes the handsome, brooding, introspective, long-haired, all-black-wearing, teen pinup-looking Olly (Nick Robinson), who moves with his family into the house next door. Lucky for Olly, he gets the bedroom directly facing Maddy, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s throwing pebbles at her window and they’re exchanging endless text messages and e-mails — and plotting to meet in person. Oh, forbidden romance!
Director Stella Meghie tries to expand the universe of the film by placing some of the text and phone conversations in stylized physical settings such as a library and a diner. (An astronaut of Maddy’s imagination usually lurks nearby, filing books or trying to sip a milkshake. Don’t ask.) Stenberg and Robinson have OK chemistry as the young couple, but their dialogue often sounds overly scripted, and once they’re actually in the same room together, it’s hardly Romeo and Juliet on the passion meter.
Everything, Everything goes from bland to terrible in the sequences that should pack the most dramatic punch. Once Maddy risks all by venturing into the outside world, she seems disoriented and overwhelmed for all of about 15 minutes, and then she just acts like a normal teenager, perusing the racks in a clothing store, frolicking on the beach, singing to jams in the car. You’d think the experience of being outside FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HER CONSCIOUS LIFE would be a little more, um, impactful.
And then comes that big reveal. When I saw the trailer for this movie, it was pretty clear what that reveal might be, but I thought: “No. They’re not going to do that. If they do THAT, this movie would have to take a sudden, vicious, extremely dark turn, and how could they make that work?”
The answer is they did, and they couldn’t. — Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication
MTRCB Rating: PG