‘ALL the Bright Places’ is a Netflix movie based on a best selling novel for young adults written by Jennifer Niven. It stars one of the brightest young stars in Hollywood today, Elle Fanning, who captivated us with her title role portrayal of Catherine of Russia in miniseries “The Great” and who wowed us in another movie we’ll also review later, “A Rainy Day in New York”.
“All the Bright Places” is set in small-town Indiana and about two high school students who have serious mental health and emotional issues. Violet Markey (Elle) is having difficulty coping with Survivor’s Guilt, which she feels after losing her dear older sister in a car crash in which she comes out unscathed. This made her withdraw from the people around her.
The first time Theodore Finch (Justice Smith, “Jurassic World”, “Detective Pikachu”), sees her while he’s jogging, she’s standing on the ledge of a bridge and Finch gets scared thinking she’s about to jump. He also goes up the ledge and stands beside her. She gets alarmed and so they both go down.
Finch will learn later that it’s on that same bridge where the car accident happened and her sister died. He tries his best to befriend her and although she is elusive at first, he volunteers to be her partner in a school project. She’s been afraid to ride in a car since the accident but he persists in inviting her to go out for their project and, eventually, she gives in and he takes her to a number of places, including a beautiful lake where they both get to swim.
As Violet becomes more receptive to healing, Finch, who loves the work of Virginia Woolf and quotes her, in turn, starts to behave badly. His friends tell Violet that they’re used to having his bad moods when he’ll just suddenly disappear and then pop up again without giving any explanation as to where he’s been and what he’s done.
His behavior is that of a manic depressive who can’t control himself. We see that he’s disturbed on the color-coded sticky notes where he writes his feelings and posted on his bedroom walls. We learn from his sister Kate (Alexandra Shipp) that their dad used to beat them up.
Finch has a big scar on his side to show for it. But he won’t even talk about it, suggesting deep emotional trauma. They also have an absentee mom. But he continues to be very nice to Violet and even brings her some beautiful flowers after he’s gone for a while.
A boy in school who’s obviously in love with Violet calls him a freak for his erratic behavior and he flares up. He beats up the boy then runs away. Violet gets worried when he has not returned and looks for him in the lake where they went swimming. His clothes and things are there but he’s gone. This is supposed to melt our heart but the problem is his character is quite underwritten and we can’t truly relate with him.
The film is about an interracial romance and it didn’t really work for us because the leads have no much of a chemistry on screen. To begin with, they don’t even look like high school students. We googled Elle and she is 22 while Justice is 25. Also, there are some shots where Elle looks even taller than Justice.
The film is designed to be a tearjerker and have the same melodramatic tropes of weepie young adult films like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, where some lead characters also die. If you go for such lachrymal films, you may also enjoy this one.
The film also works as a cautionary tale about young folks who feel lonely and misunderstood with suicidal thoughts, but its treatment is quite shallow. People around such youngsters should be astute enough to detect early on that they are in need of some professional help to get them through their depression.
Elle is so radiantly appealing on screen and gives much depth to her performance. She started as a child actress, like her elder sister, Dakota. She played the daughter of Sean Penn in “I Am Sam” when she was only 3 years old. As a teener, she played Sleeping Beauty in “Maleficent” and she also did well in “The Beguiled” with Nicole Kidman.
What we like about her new movie is its beautiful locations that truly represent all the bright places suggested in the title and Director Brett Haley succeeds in capturing them vividly on screen. With her charismatic screen presence and considerable acting talent, we have no doubt Elle has a bright future ahead of her as an actress.