Jennifer Niven’s young adult fiction novel of the same name finds screen adaptation in this bittersweet, coming-of-age drama about two teenagers who support each other through struggles with personal demons and, in the process, discover love.
Niven co-screenplays with Liz Hannah (“The Post, “Long Shot”) to set up a narrative that, true to the tone of her book, remains feel-good despite probing darker recesses of teen psychology. If the idea of teenybopper melodrama received a GenNow tweak with the book-to-film success of “The Fault In Our Stars” a while back, “All The Bright Places” does not tamper with the template.
Stress, trauma, temper issues and suicidal tendencies are universal teen problems, which makes the film topical. Director Bret Haley sets up a familiar quota of schmaltz using the premise, rolling in the smiles and tears with an effective soundtrack to define the mood all through. The film remains understated and manages to put across its comment without being preachy about it.
The story opens with Theodore Finch’s (Justice Smith) chance encounter with schoolmate Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) under rather unpleasant circumstances. She is standing atop the rails of a bridge, contemplating suicide. He must try and talk her out of it. Violet, it seems, is shattered after the death of her sister, an incident for which she holds herself responsible. Over the next days, as Finch makes several attempts to befriend her, Violet insists that he should be left alone. He is, however, in no mood to relent.
The drama comes alive as we get to know Finch. He seems pleasant enough but, as we discover, he is on counselling. There have been temper issues in the past, most in school calls him a “freak”, and one of Violet’s friends warn her he is “dangerous”. Violet, however, is strangely drawn to him. With him, she learns to look at the finer picture, and begins to understand that even the smallest things in life count.
A big reason why that story — indeed, the film – works is the chemistry that Fanning and Smith share, while Violet and Finch’s dynamic relationship. The emotional prop they provide to each other leaves an element of warmth in the story, while the physical sequence is deftly crafted to impart a raw, teen impact without getting coarse or titillating.
The film’s young leads play out a relationship that calls for the right mix of mush and melodrama. Smith is a delight to watch for the way he balances humour and angst. Fanning gets a role that demands silences do a lot of the talking, and she does impressively. As an on-screen couple, they make the most of a taut narrative executed with credible direction.
This is among the better offerings Netflix have made this year so far.
–IANS, Vinayak Chakravorty
“All The Bright Places” (Netflix original film); Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith; Direction: Brett Haley