Stella Meghie (JEAN OF THE JONESES) offers a garden-variety teen romance in her second directorial work, Everything, Everything, following the release of her widely applauded debut feature which explores the chaotic dramatics that follow a large Jamaican-American family in a riotously droll, sharply illuminating generational drama. Although her follow up project is equally audacious in its direct yet considered treatment of race at its forefront, the coming-of-age tale centring on the sudden upheaval that occurs in the insular life of precocious seventeen year old, Maddy Whittier (played by the charming Amandla Stenberg), when a mysterious boy, Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), moves in next door, the trite YA romantic drama fails to break out of the clichéd constraints of its genre, instead offering yet another bland variation on teenage puppy-love.
Based on Nicola Yoon’s namesake 2015 YA novel and adapted to the screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe, the drama’s John Green-esque quality (author of explosively popular young adult novels like The Fault in Our Stars) is made evident from its opening minutes. Maddy’s voiceover presents the audience with the facts of her unique predicament – namely, she suffers from a rare immune-deficiency disease, SCID, which prevents her from being able to function in the outside world and has her cooped up 24/7 in her house which is streamed with filtered air. She conveys how this circumstance has bred both a teenage angst and curiosity in her; she’s irked by the mundane, quotidian nature of her secluded life and haunted by feeling of being an outsider missing out on the excitement and action of the world.
In a similar fashion to these run-of-the-mill teen dramas, Maddy is swiftly portrayed to be plucked out of her familiar world by a burgeoning romance with Olly, who tenaciously vies for Maddy’s love after first catching sight of her. He begins his chase with a droll moment in which he and his sister, Kara (Taylor Hickson), arrive with a bundt – as a gift of warm neighbourly affection – at her doorstep. Up until that point having only every experienced human contact with her mother/doctor, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse, Carla (Anna de la Reguera), and Carla’s daughter, Rose, Maddy’s first experience with a maddening, heart-swelling young love, imbues her with the courage to question, for the first time, the seemingly indisputable facts of her life and her health.
While the drama likely fails in retaining the interest of viewers who aren’t predisposed to the melodramatic sentimentally of teen romance, it succeeds in standing out from all its counterparts by admirably having its lovers be an interracial couple. This refreshing aspect of the drama leads to the portrayal of a black mother-daughter relationship which is all too often devoid on the big screen, as well as allowing for Stenberg’s gorgeous curls to be proudly paraded with the same screen time that her white acting colleagues with razor-straight locks are apportioned. Ultimately however, this doesn’t succeed in capturing the viewer’s protracted attention or ring as particularly daring, innovative or creative; it merely instils a sense of the long-overdue as one is rendered faintly surprised that such films with a mixed race couples, in 2017, are so rare (the last film of this kind to have garnered significant public attention being Mick Jackson’s 1992 smash hit, The Bodyguard).
Nonetheless the drama, in other subtle ways, demonstrates itself to be deeply adept in its social-awareness: unlike in other films that prominently feature a black protagonist, Meghie does not utilise Maddy’s blackness as a pawn or a plot device in itself to rile up social strife which the puppy loved-up couple have to overcome in other to triumph in their romance. Neither are there jokes interjected into the narrative at the expense of her blackness, with the goal of offering some sort of light relief, voicing that which both the audience and those involved in the film are clearly aware of. Instead, Meghie presents Maddy as any other teenage girl (of course, with the exception of her abnormal life circumstances) whose race does not even need to be addressed – the beauty of her burgeoning character and the theatrics of her gripping circumstances speak volumes in themselves.