After meeting each other, two young teenagers named Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) and Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past. They discover that even the smallest moments can mean something.
If anybody knows me, they know that I genuinely love coming-of-age films. It’s without a doubt one of my all-time favorite genres, and a large portion of my favorite movies fall under the genre. There is just something incredibly exciting and greatly rewarding about watching a movie in which a character (typically a teenager) has to overcome challenges and figure out who they are.
Perhaps they are also just extremely relatable. I can list a bunch of coming-of-age films that have truthfully spoken to me thanks in part to the excellently realized characters, with my all-time favorite being Nadine Franklin in The Edge of Seventeen. Not only was her character one that was deeply grounded and realistic, but one that felt like me in a way. It’s my favorite film in the genre.
With all of this being said, Brett Haley’s film adaptation of Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places didn’t seem like it would offer anything unique or different. Looking at the promotional material accompanying the movie, I wouldn’t blame you if you took a quick glance at it and said that you would pass because it looked generic. But, trust me, now that I have seen the film, I can happily report that this is not bland or familiar at all. It’s a gripping, uplifting and emotionally devastating experience.
The biggest reason as to why this film feels so different compared to others in the genre is because of the treatment of its characters and the central romance that the screenwriters are trying to portray. Violet and Theodore have both gone through some heart-wrenching events in their past. Violet’s sister Eleanor has passed away as a result of a car crash, and therefore, she refuses to set foot in a car ever again, no matter who is driving or how fast they are going. She has had to deal with the trauma for a long period of time and she feels extremely raw.
Theodore also struggles with depression and at one point in time we learn that he doesn’t have the greatest father either. As the puzzle pieces for both characters get put together, and certain revelations are unveiled, the overarching story becomes one that was incredibly entertaining and interesting to follow.
Speaking of the characters, the actors that portray the leads are absolutely astounding here. Justice Smith portrays Theodore and Elle Fanning portrays Violet. Both actors have a tricky role to play, and they go to emotional places that I have never seen these two people go in their careers. This is without a doubt the strongest performance that Smith has given to date, and Fanning also delivers one of the best performances of her career.
The chemistry on screen from these two is also some of the best that I have seen in an incredibly long time. They honestly feel as if they have known each other for years in real life and are best friends. Nothing about the way they interact with one another feels staged or scripted, even though it is. It’s truly remarkable stuff.
But what makes the film so special is the way its story is told. It’s a love story as well as a shockingly deep and thought-provoking teen-centered drama that has many twists and turns up its sleeve. As the romance was blossoming between Violet and Theodore, I was worried that it would go into the traditional syrupy sweet route that so many romance stories in film go. I was delighted to see that it did not end up taking that route at all. Their relationship here is one of the most realistic depictions of a relationship I have seen in years.
As for the dramatic element to the plot, it was handled with a great sense of vigor and emotion. You’d think that for a movie that, at its core, is about love and is aimed towards younger audiences, it wouldn’t be all that depressing, but it is.
The first act is a relatively sweet and innocent set up for the rest of the movie to come afterwards. It can be a little bit rocky and it is often unclear as to where the story is going to go. But after the first act is out of the way and the second act kicks into gear, everything picked up immensely. The transition from sweet love story to greatly gut-wrenching territory wasn’t necessarily the smoothest.
But when the emotions hit, they hit hard. The final thirty minutes of the movie are absolutely terrific. As certain plot points are revealed, and whenever we as audience find out certain things in relation to our lead protagonists, it is honestly heartbreaking. This, accompanied with the euphoric score from Keegan DeWitt, make the finale equal parts breathtakingly beautiful and haunting.
Charming, sweet, and often deeply gripping and emotional, All the Bright Places is a mesmerizing coming-of-age story told with immense skill.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Directed by: Brett Haley
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: February 28, 2020
Running Time: 108 minutes