Netflix UK film review: All the Bright Places
Luke Channell | On 28, Feb 2020
Director: Brett Haley
Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith. Luke Wilson, Kelli O’Hara
Watch All the Bright Places online in the UK: Netflix UK
Netflix is no stranger to young adult dramas that tackle weighty issues of mental health and suicide, with its most notable foray being TV series 13 Reasons Why. Although not without its flaws, the show generated thoughtful discussions around topics such as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, Netflix’s latest teen endeavour, All the Bright Places, is unlikely to achieve the same impact. Squandering a talented cast, All the Bright Places disappoints at almost every turn and paints a superficial picture of mental health issues
Based upon Jennifer Niven’s novel of the same name, All the Bright Places opens bleakly: high-schooler Violet (Elle Fanning) stands on the edge of a bridge contemplating suicide following the death of her sister in a car crash. Fellow pupil Theodore (Justice Smith) happens to spot Violet and manages to talk her down from the ledge. Theodore suffers from his own bouts of depression and is labelled a freak at school. The pair find solace in each other’s company and grow closer when they partner up for a geography class project that requires them to explore the wonders of Indiana. As the pair fall in love, they are compelled to confront their own emotional scars together.
Considering we spend the majority of All the Bright Places in the company of Violet and Theodore, the film lives or dies on the believability and charisma of their connection. Disappointingly, the film never gives itself a chance to flourish as it doesn’t convincingly flesh out either of the central characters. We are never given any real sense of the duo’s personalities beyond their mental health issues and this lack of meaningful character development makes it hard to feel empathy for their plights. Both Fanning and Smith are given very little to work with and they struggle to conjure up any sort of chemistry.
In an attempt to make the audience feel something, the film employs several lazy montage sequences of the pair bonding across Indiana. The film wants you to desperately feel sad for the couple, but these scenes just reinforce their two-dimensional, superficial nature. The unmemorable supporting cast are given even less to feed off. Luke Wilson and Kelli O’Hara are lumbered with generic, thankless roles as Violet’s worried parents, while Keegan-Michael Key plays Theodore’s humourless school counsellor – giving him no opportunity to flex his comedic muscles and help offset the film’s dour tone.
The cast are also hindered by a limp script, which lacks any charm or intrigue. Much of the dialogue is uninspired and the narrative pacing is continually aimless. While All the Bright Places might have its heart in the right place, the film’s representations don’t add anything new or thought-provoking to conversations around grief, mental health or suicide.
All the Bright Places is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.