When the longed-for first kiss between neighbors Maddy and Olly arrives in Everything, Everything, the air around the two young lovers shimmers with the reflection of July 4 fireworks. Everything — everything! — is heightened between these two, as it should be — not just because they’re 18-year-olds in love, but because Maddy, confined to her house for medical reasons, has never expected to experience direct contact with the world, let alone physical intimacy with a boy.
Working from J. Mills Goodloe’s adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s debut young adult novel, director Stella Meghie wisely emphasizes the sensuous aspects of this story of awakening. Jolts of humor and fantasy bring welcome texture to the romance-novel sleekness, as do the leads, who both have an uncommon, idiosyncratic allure. While the young-love melodrama isn’t about to entice older viewers, the target audience will swoon.
As the stylish bookworm Maddy, Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) is smart and yearning, a princess trapped in a castle. Because of the severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID, that makes her vulnerable to life-threatening infections, she’s spent most of her life within the hermetically sealed expanses of a glamorous house in a tony corner of Los Angeles. (The film was shot primarily in Vancouver, with Mexico subbing for Hawaii at a crucial turning point in the drama.)
Besides Maddy and her physician mother, Pauline (a flinty Anika Noni Rose), Maddy’s spirited nurse, Carla (Ana De La Reguera), and her daughter, Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), are the only people who ever enter the house. New neighbor Olly (Nick Robinson) arrives just in time for Maddy’s 18th birthday, a poetically longhaired skateboarding prince whose first glance at Maddy, in an upstairs window, Meghie wrings for all its slo-mo adolescent awkwardness and grace.
He’s a transplanted New Yorker who dresses in black and has a compelling way of looking at her, while Maddy is clad mostly in white, like a waiting bride. From mutually enchanted pantomimes across their facing bedroom windows, they advance to late-night text convos. Meghie spares us an overload of onscreen text by shifting some of those digital exchanges into a fantasy realm, placing Maddy and Olly face-to-face in life-size versions of the architectural models she builds, complete with the astronaut (Sage Brocklebank) who’s her jokey animal spirit of sorts, enclosed entirely in his spacesuit.
The fantasy sequences — one in a swooping modernist library, the other in a retro diner done up in Maddy’s favorite color, aquamarine — are production designer Charisse Cardenas’ strongest contributions to the film, candy-hued dreamscapes lending the proceedings a touch of the surreal.
Back amid the showroom decor of Maddy’s home, Carla, who has a far warmer relationship with the girl than does her mother, quickly twigs to what’s going on between Maddy and the boy next door. Carla doesn’t take much convincing to arrange Olly’s visit, after the prescribed decontamination regimen, across the sacrosanct threshold. Soon, Maddy wants more than occasional indoor visits, and is ready to risk her life for the moments of connection.
The screenplay by Goodloe (The Age of Adaline, The Best of Me) is a mix of ultra-romantic gestures and ultra-obvious cues. Among the latter are exchanges concerning the central characters’ family struggles — Pauline still mourns the husband and son she lost in an accident, while Olly, his sister (Taylor Hickson) and their mother are under the thumb of an abusive father. These plot strands aren’t always well integrated into the action, but a major twist is handled with a straightforward simplicity that amps the horror.
Through it all, from health setbacks to ground-shifting emotional breakthroughs, the emphasis is on youthful beauty and energy. Stenberg’s girl in the bubble never looks less than dazzling, and DP Igor Jadue-Lillo gives her cute outfits (designed by Avery Plewes) as much loving attention as the lead actors’ faces.
Meghie (Jean of the Joneses) embraces the high degree of teen self-awareness, just as she does the YA clarity of the story’s driving metaphors. In the exuberance and tenderness between Stenberg and Robinson, Everything is a persuasive argument for taking chances.
Production company: Alloy Entertainment
Distributors: Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Ana De La Reguera, Taylor Hickson, Danube R. Hermosillo, Dan Payne, Fiona Loewi, Sage Brocklebank, Robert Lawrenson, Peter Benson, Françoise Yip, Farryn Vanhumbeck, Janet Marion Eisman
Director: Stella Meghie
Screenwriter: J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Nicola Yoon
Producers: Leslie Morgenstein, Elysa Dutton
Executive producer: Victor Ho
Director of photography: Igor Jadue-Lillo
Production designer: Charisse Cardenas
Costume designer: Avery Plewes
Editor: Nancy Richardson
Composer: Ludwig Göransson
Casting: Mary Vernieu, Venus Kanani
Rated PG-13, 96 minutes