[A spoiler-free review.]
Everything, Everything is the film adaptation of a novel that tells the story of Maddy Whittier, a teenager with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). This prevents her from ever leaving her house, where she is protected from any allergen or germ that might make her sick. When a new family moves into the house next door, Maddy encounters Olly, and her entire world begins to change.
Everything, Everything is, at its heart, a story about Maddy. Played by Amandla Stenburg, Maddy is the narrator and sole point-of-view character of the film. Stenburg portrays the character with finesse, showing a wide range of emotions. Olly (Nick Robinson) has similar depth, and the two actors have plenty of chemistry together. One of the strengths of the film is that it knows when to focus on Maddy and Olly and together and when to leave the focus simply on Maddy.
The high point of the film is how it portrays Maddy’s point of view. The audience sees everything that happens in the story through her eyes, and the cinematography supports that view. Multiple scenes take place partly in Maddy’s head, as she imagines herself meeting Olly face-to-face in a variety of locations. Since Maddy is the central focus of nearly every scene, the audience is drawn into her mind, and we quickly come to see how Maddy sees the world, how she experiences life. One thing Everything, Everything has mastered in deep POV (point of view). This well-executed technique combined with Amandla Stenburg’s acting means that the main character is fully realized and a joy to watch.
(Also, on a personal opinion note: Amandla Stenburg is one of the most beautiful actresses I’ve seen in a long time. I just enjoyed looking at her throughout the movie. And I love that she’s actually the same age as her character.)
The overall camerawork of the movie is decent. It’s not perfectly smooth, but it’s not distracting either, and there are a number of shots that are truly impressive. The movie’s sets are gorgeous, and each has a distinct feel that adds to the tone of the movie. Maddy’s imagined conversations take place in almost dreamlike settings–a diner, a library, and outer space, to name a few. The shot-to-shot editing is well composed, although some of the scene transitions (particularly in the first half of the movie) are jarring. Overall, Everything, Everything is an enjoyable, well-made movie.
Everything, Everything was a book before it was a movie. And before the movie came out, the book drew criticism for how it portrayed the story of the disabled protagonist. Fully describing the book’s problems would spoil the plot, but suffice to say that the narrative does veer into problematic cliches that often plague stories with disabled protagonists–particularly the cliche that a protagonist must be cured of their disease before they can have a happy ending. The movie sticks close to the same plot from the book, so it has many of the same problems. Disabled reviewers who know more about this topic have written at more length about this; if you’re interested in learning about the controversy, there are links at the end of this post to articles that discuss the story’s problems in depth.
To sum up, Everything, Everything is a well-made movie starring two skilled, beautiful actors. Taken on its own with no cultural context, it’s an enjoyable movie. I certainly appreciated watching it. But the reality is that every movie has some kind of cultrual relevance, and every movie–especially Hollywood movies released to a mass audience–has some kind of impact on the people who watch it. Unfortunately, Everything, Everything perpetuates cliches and maintains a somewhere narrow view of living with a disability. This is a beautiful movie, and I wish that it were more aware of the harm it could do in terms of portraying disabilities.
Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – A book review from the Disabilityinkidlit blog, which features reviews written by disabled reviewers.
Everything Everything: An In-Depth Analysis Into the Ableism Problem – Another book review by a disabled blogger.
‘Everything, Everything’ Draws Criticism for Its Portrayal of SCID and Disability – An article summarizing the negative response the book and movie attracted from some reviewers.