CONTENT NOTE: All the Bright Places deals frankly with mental health, suicide, eating disorders and grief.
All the Bright Places is a drama about Violet who is still grieving for her sister lost in a car accident the previous year and Finch, a noted "freak," who tries to get Violet to come out of her shell. Though, Finch isn't being completely honest with himself about his own mental health and is in no real position to be helping others. Tragedy ensues. It stars Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O'Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Chris Grace, Luke Wilson, and Keegan-Michael Key. It is directed by Brett Haley and written by Liz Hannah and Jennifer Niven. It is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
If you're a long time reader, you know I can't resist a teen comedy. I love to watch teenagers getting into scrapes and goofiness. I tend, though, to stay away from drama aimed at teens. For the most part because the angst of teen life is one, of a great many, of the things I don't miss about being a teenager. For the rest of it, it's because they're always, ALWAYS, exhaustively sad tragedies. All the Bright Places is no exception and it is no exception that I wept solidly for the last fifteen minutes of this movie.
It's easy to see the tragedy coming. The film starts with Violet standing on a bridge, contemplating jumping and Finch happening by to talk her down. Those overwhelming emotions and hormones are so prevalent and so real throughout the film that my heart beats fast every time someone gets into a car or has a fight. It's the most anxious type of movie watching. I would rather watch an action film where a lone man has to dismantle a bomb, while another bomb is strapped to his chest, in a nursery that he can't evacuate because the madman behind the bomb has rigged it to explode if even one baby leaves the room. I think because the teens have so much life to live. I want to be like the adults here and tell them of my hardships, tell them that there are resources for people, that they're not alone. It's stressful and painful, but that isn't to say I didn't like the film.
I really liked All the Bright Places. The photography and montages are just beautiful. Director Brett Haley and cinematographer Rob Givens have made me want to visit Indiana. The wonder of the place with its strange, beautiful forests, natural bodies of water, the roadside roller coasters and the trees of shoes. Haley's got a very sensitive eye toward his leads. He has a tenderness in the movements he makes, where as another director may have lingered too long in one area or built up something that wasn't important, Haley has just the right touch. This is a gorgeous looking movie and the script sings as well. I love how Liz Hannah and Jennifer Niven crafted this story out of Niven's novel. I love the ups and downs, the very real feeling humans and relationships.
Though, I didn't like when the platonic love morphed into romantic love. I know, I KNOW, that's what these movies are all about, but there is something incredibly special in the relationship of Violet and Finch, despite Finch's kind of creepy horror movie stalker tendencies. Their friendship is truly beautiful and reminds me of the most intimate friendships of my life. I really don't like when a film takes that and has the characters say, "I'm broken and you're broken, want to make out?" It may be a reality for some, that kind of romance, but for me it always rings false.
What never rings false is the earnestness of the leads. Justice Smith is quickly becoming a clutch actor, someone who can easily transition from drama to comedy and do each with equal measures of aplomb. He's so charming and so deep in the same frame of All the Bright Places. That's not to say his costar, Elle Fanning, is any slouch as she's been acting since long before puberty and has honed a style that's engrossing and rings true with every scene.
It's hard not to be engaged and emotional with a story about teens and new love. Despite it's flaws, All the Bright Places sucks you into a world with a color and a life all its own. There are scenes of quiet brilliance and of loud anguish that are treated with the same dignity. If you have a moment to let a film wash over you or if you need a good cry amidst the stresses of our current everyday, I suggest popping on All the Bright Places and remembering what it was like to throw your whole heart at something.