Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg) is a smart, beautiful, and inventive 18-year-old gal who yearns to see the ocean, even though she lives just three miles from the Southern California coastline. The reason she’s never seen it is because she suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), a rare genetic disorder that prevents her from ever leaving her hermetically sealed house; any exposure to the outside world and its plethora of germs and viruses could kill her. Maddy has lived an isolated existence since she was diagnosed as a baby 17 years ago, shortly after the tragic deaths of her father and brother. Her only companions are her mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), who works as a doctor; Carla (Ana de la Reguera), her nurse; and Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo), Carla’s teen daughter. But all that changes when Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), a handsome boy from the East Coast, moves in next door.
“Every day feels exactly the same,” Maddy laments. “Maybe today’s different,” she adds upon seeing Olly move in. And it is: The two, whose bedroom windows conveniently overlook one another, form an instant bond through e-mails, texts, and late-night phone calls. Maddy soon convinces Carla to let Olly visit her home, and their romance blossoms. “When I talk to him I feel like I’m outside,” she confesses. Of course, Maddy longs to see the real outside world, preferably with Olly, and is willing to risk her life to live one perfect day of total freedom. She convinces him to run away with her to Hawaii, but things don’t go quite as planned.
Everything, Everything is based on Nicola Yoon’s popular YA novel of the same name, and the premise is solid enough. Unfortunately, sophomore director Stella Meghie and screenwriter J. Mills Goodloe have taken a story that, on paper, is rich with emotion, and turned it into a movie that’s as sterile and lifeless as Maddy’s airtight house. Vapid dialogue, sluggish direction, and humdrum editing kill whatever chance the film had to engage viewers. Likewise, Stenberg and Robinson are both handsome and charismatic, but their performances feel reigned in and they’re never allowed to fully explore their emotions—everything is played on the surface. Olly is dealing with an abusive father, but we never learn more about his situation or how it affects him. As for Maddy, she’s mostly sweet and innocent throughout, which translates into saccharine and boring. You want these two to not just run away to Hawaii and frolic in the ocean (how Maddy gets on a plane without any kind of photo ID is never explained), but to dive deep into their emotions and arouse us with what they’re feeling. For a romance, there are few fireworks here. The one thing the film has going for it is an 11th-hour revelation that will surprise some, although any savvy moviegoer will likely figure out the shopworn twist well before it’s divulged.
The first time Maddy and Olly meet face-to-face in her house, they are both awkward and shy, and words fail them. “This is an ellipsis,” Maddy says during one painful silence. The same could be said of the entire movie: Too much is omitted. What it needs is…well, everything, everything.