Everything, Everything (2017)

96 min. Director: Stella Meghie. Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Nick Robinson, Amandla Stenberg.

Nicola Yoon’s YA romance novel Everything, Everything proffered a canny allegory for teenage girls: parents not letting you do anything resembles having a disease that keeps you housebound. Heroine Madeline Whittier has SCID (Severe Combined Immuno-Deficiency), effectively making her the Girl in the Plastic Bubble, but when love comes knocking, Maddy answers the call.

Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) lives with her mother Pauline (Tony winner Anika Noni Rose), who also serves as her doctor (uh oh), in an elaborately tricked-out surburban home. “Simple viruses can kill me,” Maddy explains, and the spectres of a dead husband and child fuel Pauline’s intense fear for Maddy’s health. Nevertheless, events conspire to give Maddy a great adventure: she turns eighteen and a cute boy moves in next door. And with a name like Olly Bright, he’s got to be prime YA romance material.

And indeed he is. His curiosity piqued by the glass-encased beauty next door, Olly (Nick Robinson) begins reaching out, mostly through text messages and pantomime from his window, but eventually more boldly. I’ll avoid spoiling the movie (the trailer does a good enough job of that), but suffice it to say that when desire meets with an obstacle, love finds a way (and a credit card). Also, writers find a way, sometimes by not doing justice to their own premises.

Screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe and director Stella Meghie show the most imagination in staging Maddy and Olly’s conversations when they’re physically apart. Since Maddy aspires to a career in architecture, she envisions talking to Olly in buildings that thus far only exist in her mind and as scale models in her house. It’s also nice to see strong representation for African-Americans behind and in front of the camera (Yoon, Meghie, Stenberg, and Rose, with Yoon and Meghie sharing Jamaican roots).

Sadly, pretty much everything, everything else in Everything, Everything adheres to cliché. When the young couple first kisses, literal fireworks appear at precisely that moment, and there’s an image deeper into the film depicting Olly running across a golden field toward Maddy. Since Maddy’s wanderlust involves the ocean, there’s also a fair amount of footage shot on Mexican beaches doubling for Hawaii. The novel’s known for its swoony lines, and the film follows suit (“When I talk to him, I feel like I’m outside”), but much of the generic YOLO dialogue works as a sleep aid.

When all is said and done, though, Everything, Everything plays fast and loose to give teens (and, more likely, pre-teens) what they want. The more the story panders, the less interesting it gets—which is not to say it was terribly interesting from the start. As a character, Olly is little more than an ideal-boyfriend foil for Maddy, who’s not terribly deep herself. Soft-touch kids may enjoy the smooth-jazz romance of this ludicrous fantasy, with true love challenged by caring but misguided parental overprotectiveness, but the story fails to deal honestly with its what-if scenarios.