Romantic drama lacks powerful, grounding fantasy elements

By T.T. Stern Enzi

Photo: Amandla Stenberg as Maddy in her hermetically sealed home from ‘Everything, Everything,’ Rating: PG-13; Grade: D-

There is a line between fantasy and make believe, not quite what you could call all that “fine” a distinction, either. Fantasy requires an investment, a whole-hearted commitment to a realm with a certain set of well-defined laws and a sense of order, no matter how unreal the content. Magic operates within strict confines similar to what we call science, right?

Make believe, on the other hand, knows no such bounds, because make believe exists in the moment. It is not defined by anything other than what pops into your head. It is all about immediate reactions. You want something to happen, and so it does. When children are in that early phase where they ask too many questions—frustrating questions that lead parents to resort to that fall-back response “because” after a while—no detailed answer will ever make sense. That is the root of make believe.

And that is what is at the heart of my frustration with director Stella Meghie’s adaptation of the J. Mills Goodloe screenplay based on Nicola Yoon’s book, “Everything, Everything.” The premise treats the audience like a child who has asked a long succession of questions, so when the proverbial one that breaks the camel’s back is asked, it leads to that reaction, “because.”

Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), a curious and fatally cute teenager, has lived in a sterile suite of nearly solitary confinement due to severe allergies. She has been told that exposure to almost any and everything could lead to a systemic shutdown that could kill her. The only safe place on the planet is the hermetically sealed home provided by her mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), who happens to be a doctor. Her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera) and, occasionally, Carla’s daughter are the only people able to enter. We are supposed to believe that the flimsy “airlock” at the front door, where entrants slip off their shoes and wash their hands before entering the house is all that is needed to prevent Maddy from being exposed to dangerous microbes from the outside world. If that were the case, then why couldn’t anyone come in and spend time with Maddy?

I wanted to go along with this rather absurd notion, but my mind kept wandering back to a television movie from my childhood, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” Starring teen heartthrob John Travolta, this 1976 romantic drama followed a similarly afflicted character Tod Lubitch (Travolta), a teen with terminal immune deficiencies forcing him to live in a germ-free bubble. Tod starts spending time with Gina (Glynnis O’Connor), his next-door neighbor, and not only falls in love, like any kid would, but longs to escape his life-saving prison.

The fantasy of “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” embraces a more realistic portrayal of the science needed to protect someone with such a debilitating disorder. We see, for the most part, the technology of the time employed to create the necessary cocoon that keeps Tod safe. In “Everything, Everything,” the filmmakers and the narrative itself simply expect us to have faith in the idea that Pauline has somehow made sure there is no way that Maddy is being exposed to germs and microbes, in what otherwise looks like a regular (if fairly upscale) home.

When Maddy meets the bland, but neighborly Olly (Nick Robinson), we know that within a matter of minutes he will find a way to slip inside the flimsy defenses. The funny thing is, it’s more difficult for him to crack her innocent heart (which, truth be told, takes a Bundt cake and a cell phone number written on his window) than it is to enter the house, despite Pauline’s protests.

I longed for the pure agony that Tod and Gina experienced in their attempts to reach out to one another through that plastic bubble, back in the day. Their love felt more real and vital because of the hardships they faced. When a loving touch can kill, the stakes can’t get much higher. “Everything, Everything” doesn’t even set up a bar for Maddy and Olly to overcome, instead insisting on the idea that we should just make believe like mindless children.

Everything, Everything [PG-13] D-

Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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