Written by: Jennifer Niven & Liz Hannah
Starring: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson
Processing traumatic events for a well-seasoned adult does not come with ease, which makes going through it as a teenager a seemingly insurmountable task. This particular struggle receives the highlight in All the Bright Places, as it displays the dilemma of processing these feelings along with the other issues adolescence provides. While in-depth in some stages, the film does have trouble with the consistency of this story and the similar trappings of converting young adult books into feature films.
Traumatized by a car accident that resulted in the death of her sister, Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) has had trouble interacting with others and refuses to set foot in a vehicle again. This lack of social interaction gets challenged when the outgoing but ostracized Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) tries to befriend her. With their connection beginning with a school project the bond they form allows them to form something they could never have with others.
Starting with an interaction where Violet stands at the edge of a bridge and Theodore breaks her concentration, All the Bright Places shows right away that its roots come directly from the young adult genre, as it could not have come from anywhere else. This icy beginning also shows the dynamic of Theordore trying to be a positive force in Violet’s life and helping her confront the trauma she experienced from the accident with her sister. The impact of harsh moments on a tenneger’s mental heatlth certainly becomes the foundation of the themes this story carries, but in a way it provides mixed messaging in its presentation.
Theordore decides the best way to help Violet through this process is through pushing her to confront different aspects about her trauma. It occurs in a very pushy manner where she tells him, at times, to leave her alone. With the type of story this film utilizes, it obviously does not come that easily. Instead, Theodore continues to persist, which ends up further developing their relationship. However, when it gets to a point where Violet attempts to do something similar for Theodore, things get complicated. The film attempts to address the delicacy of mental health concerns and how a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for everyone, but it occurs in a particularly harmful manner. Theodore spends most of the time pushing Violet, but the second it gets turned on him brings a measure of inconsistency that makes his initial actions much more abrupt and unwarranted.
Additionally, the dialogue cannot be taken seriously because these high school students talk like they are 35-year-old adults. Commonly a misgiving of the young adult genre, which comes through the marketing of these stories and how easily they can be packaged and sold with this mold but with conversation people much older than them should be having. The moment where it shows Violet reading Virginia Woolf proved that most of everything they said does not match their age, which would make sense if everything else about them did not come drenched in adolescence. With the tragedy on display in this film, the way suicide gets handled could have certainly been handled better as well.
Narratively, the film has its stumbling blocks but the relationship between Theorodre and Violet gets anchored by the performances by Justice Smith and Elle Fanning. They create a loving relationship for a couple so young and take on the intense moments the film presents to them. Smith, in particular, gets some heavy moments to portray because of the trauma his own character has experienced in the past. Theodore does not receive much slack from his classmates, which creates another set of issues but Smith’s performance finds the balance of displaying the pain and the outgoing persona he wants to portray with Violet. A strong performance by the young actor as he continues his ascent.
While having some glittering moments, the ultimately misguided All the Bright Places can never truly overcome the issues presented in the story. Its lack of consistency with boundaries begins to undermine the story and the overall message it was to display. The effectiveness of it all can be called into question but the performances certainly cannot, as it shows two young actors putting in good work despite the failings of the screenplay.