Usually, when you buy a ticket for an angsty teen romance, you know what you’re gonna get. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl can’t be together because of terminal illness/clashing lifestyles/strict parents/authoritarian government/ancient blood feud between two households, both alike in dignity. On its surface, Everything, Everything looks like just another entry in the genre: Based on Nicola Yoon’s bestselling YA novel, it follows two teenagers falling in love for the first time, one of whom can’t leave the house because of a faulty immune system. But instead of delivering a Nicholas Sparks-ified tale of rowboats and tearful confrontations in rainstorms, Everything, Everything feels like something fresh. Director Stella Meghie sidesteps the pitfalls of your typical YA movie, delivering a gorgeous and sweet story that you can’t help but fall in love with.
Everything, Everything may be billed as a romance, but really, it’s a coming-of-age story about a young girl named Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg). Maddy is bright, funny, and beautiful — and she also hasn’t left her house in 17 years, thanks to a rare condition called severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. Essentially, she’s allergic to everything, so she’s imprisoned in her ivory tower of air locks and disinfectant. Except for an awkward online support group for other kids with SCID, the only people she’s allowed to come in contact with are her strict physician mother (Anika Noni Rose) and her nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera). That is, of course, until a very cute and very persistent boy named Olly (Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) moves in next door.
Stenberg is best known as the brave Rue from the original Hunger Games film, but with Everything, Everything, she cements her status as a rising star. As Maddy and Olly start trading texts, Stenberg’s protagonist is funny, shy, flirty, brash, brilliant, nervous, and selfish — often all at once. Her Romeo is a little bit more typical, the classic misunderstood loner who wears all black but has a heart of gold. But Stenberg and Robinson have chemistry that sparkles, and they play their romance with an earnestness that captures all the joy and awkwardness of first love. (Notably, the film is also a rare example of an interracial romance on screen, as Maddy is biracial and Olly is white.)
One of the things that sets Everything, Everything apart from your run-of-the-mill teen weepie is Meghie, who brings Maddy’s world to life by playing with color and creative cinematography. Because Maddy has spent her entire life inside, she’s developed a rich fantasy world, bolstered by books and film and the architectural models she builds for her online classes. Most of Maddy and Olly’s courtship takes place over email and text — not exactly the most engaging premise for a film — but Meghie shows us these conversations the way Maddy imagines them, with the star-crossed pair wandering through the diners and libraries she builds in her mind. These sequences give the entire film a fantastic, ethereal quality that elevate it to something special.
Yoon’s novel elaborated a bit more on how Maddy lives day-to-day with her disease, but the film is more interested in exploring her relationship with Olly (and, to a lesser extent, her relationship with her domineering mother). As a result, the plot sometimes threatens to veer into silly territory, requiring a little suspension of disbelief as the film moves into the final act. (How does a teenager who’s never left the house have the ID required to get through airport security?) But Maddy and Olly are so sweet and believable together that it’s easy to forgive some of the film’s soapier tendencies. You can’t help but root for these two crazy kids — and hope to see more teenagers on screen like them.