Review: All The Bright Places

Year: 2020
Run Time: 107 Minutes
Director: Brett Haley
Writers: Liz Hannah & Jennifer Niven 
Stars: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Luke Wilson, Alexandra Shipp

By Kristy Strouse

If you are unfamiliar with the book or the story in general, be cautious travellers: this is one of those films that is going to be coated in melodrama and ultimately, demanding of your tears. The question is, is the journey worth that outcome?

Yes.

As with life itself (which primarily ties to the central heart of the story: there are always bright places in dark times) things can be challenging, disheartening, and sometimes downright seemingly hopeless, but we can prevail. That sort of message, even if it’s paraded at times here, is worth seeking, and if it allows someone out there to feel less alone, the intent is successful.

When Finch (Justice Smith) is running one early morning he comes across Violet (Elle Fanning) standing on the ledge of the bridge, looking down into the watery abyss. He gets her down, and thus begins a fascination. What was she doing? Why? Violet had lost her sister a year before, someone she was incredibly close to, and her life hasn’t been the same since. Finch recognizes this in her, having his own history with abuse and an inconsistent parental figure, and he decides to project himself into her life. When one of their classes requires a project done with a pair, he pursues her for a partner, and she eventually, reluctantly agrees. Her curiosity for Finch (often referred to as “The Freak” by his classmates due to his occasionally reckless behaviour) has her pushing her boundaries and rediscovering joy.

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Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in All the Bright Places (2020)

The score (by Keegan DeWitt) is something enchanting in and of itself. It casts a sort of melancholy tone that bursts with a continual gift of bright flowers and sun-soaked kisses. It feels perfectly in tune with the narrative.

As yet another young adult-adapted story is given life, one can be leery. Expect some of the usual tropes to ride coattail: quirky dialogue and habits, shimmering moments of young love (with obvious lens flares and staged yet intended to be random sequences) that feel dizzy and intoxicating, but not entirely logical. However, Elle and Justice do create something magical here with a chemistry that’s born with ease and held with affable charm. Violet and Finch are a couple that is unexpected enough, yet strangely fitting, which grounds them.

The score (by Keegan DeWitt) is something enchanting in and of itself. It casts a sort of melancholy tone that bursts with a continual gift of bright flowers and sun-soaked kisses. It feels perfectly in tune with the narrative, and as you watch, the music wraps around you, providing a welcoming blanket against the coming cold.

all the bright
Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in All the Bright Places (2020)

Director Brett Haley manages to make their small slice of Indiana seem dreamy, an apt place for something to blossom out of the monotony and teen angst. Their adventures, which at times seem “lame” as they state, truly work as a platform for their own, meaningful experiences. The correlation between the settings and their growth propel the story to feel organic, making it easier to accept the downfallsThis is a love story, but it is also one of loss, and learning from the time we have spent with those who have genuinely touched our lives.

Luke Wilson and Kelli O’Hara play Violet’s parents, and both have moments of compassion in their given roles.  The same goes with Finch’s sister Kate (Alexandra Shipp) closest to him, essentially caring for him when their mother is away. The screenplay by Liz Hannah and Jennifer Niven (who also wrote the novel) crafts an affecting and necessary duet of first love and a peek at mental health. Much like our character, Finch, I won’t put labels on theirs, because it just isn’t necessary. This is a movie that shows the differing levels of grief and emotional torment, and it isn’t a requirement to specify.

These characters are each going through their own struggles, and that’s what is important to remember. I think that the performances alone give us a keen delivery on how much this is affecting their lives Elle Fanning is very rarely disappointing, this is no exception, though I do think that Justice Smith is really the stand out here. He’s so charismatic, but also temperamental. His various layers are all his own which make the character truly burst off-screen. It makes his highs palpable and his lows intrusively pervasive. Their excursions together provide some fun, free-falling moments of youth in all its wild- discovery, giving us context for their friendship that eventually leads to more.

All-the-Bright-Places
Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in All the Bright Places (2020)

Director Brett Haley manages to make their small slice of Indiana seem dreamy, an apt place for something to blossom out of the monotony and teen angst. Their adventures, which at times seem “lame” as they state, truly work as a platform for their own, meaningful experiences.

As the film comes to a close there are a lot of tough scenes, ones that preach to the growth and lessons learned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a manipulative one (even in the slightest). It’s okay, there’s enough here to give “All the Bright Places” a gander, a thoughtful meditation, and perhaps invoke a sense of renewal in your own life.

Go into this with a clear idea of what you are getting into and you’ll be able to see through the veil of heavy-handedness to find warmth in the performances, the writing and a variety of other beautiful variables that assimilate life and loss.

3 stars

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