Everything, Everything

Why did I pay to see Everything, Everything in theaters? First, the movie stars Amandla Stenberg, and it is unusual for movies to feature black actors as stars in (teen) movies, especially as romantic leads. Stenberg has been a vocal intersectional feminist and has acquitted herself with more maturity than her contemporaries while in the public spotlight. Second, Everything, Everything is directed by a black woman, Stella Meghie. I am not familiar with Meghie’s work, but not many black women get to direct films in Hollywood. Does this mean that it’s a great movie? No. Real representation should also mean that not just the majority gets to be mediocre. When black people can make middling to awful movies and still get multiple film offers we can finally boast of living in a post-racial society.

Everything, Everything is a movie about Maddy, an 18-year-old confined to her house all her life after her doctor and mother diagnose her with a severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID). After Olly moves in next door, they find creative ways to get to know each other, but when her mother believes that the relationship will endanger her daughter’s life, she tries to put an end to it. Maddy must define what is living and what is surviving.

This is not my kind of movie. It’s  a rom-com with Romeo and Juliet elements, and I’m not into that genre. Even worse, Everything, Everything is part of a special rom-com subgenre that I previously elected to skip—young adults who are isolated from normal life for some special reason who now have to mature, but their age does not match their experience. This includes The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Bubble Boy, which I may see one day because it stars Jake Gyllenhaal, and Blast from the Past, which I may see one day because it features Christopher Walken. This movie is marketed for teens and is an adaptation of a popular teen novel. I’m not in the right demographic, and with the exception of The Hunger Games, I rarely read and enjoy novels marketed to teens.

Everything, Everything may be a meh movie, but it has some interesting elements and has some ambitious moments when it depicts dialogue that takes place in cyberspace or the main character’s imagination. If the filmmakers thought of this movie as a reimagining of a Gothic horror film set in contemporary California, it would have been a hit. Where others look at this movie and see a teen romance, I see a Gothic horror film. Because I watch too many films, I thought Everything, Everything should be paired with a little known film called The Harvest. First, we have an isolated heroine. Second, there is the ominous specter of death-the heroine wears white and is in constant danger. Third, the majority of the action takes place in a house, albeit a beautiful, light and airy one, which is why I think that it would make a great subversive Gothic horror film. Fourth, it has a forbidden romance-more on that later. Fifth, Everything, Everything has hidden madness, which I pegged immediately, even if it is some pathological form of PTSD.

I noticed that other reviewers praised Everything, Everything for not being about race, but I disagree. I know nothing about the novel, but in the film adaptation, the subtext is about race although it is implicit. The majority of Americans do not realize how overprotective black mothers have historically had to be to keep black children alive. Maddy’s illness in the film adaptation is a convenient way to protect her from the racism of broader society by withdrawing her from it. Maddy’s mother and father were in an interracial relationship. There is a scene when Maddy’s mother says, “He is not your Olly.” I haven’t heard dialogue like that since watching films that take place in the South depicting a black woman falling in love with a white man and heartbreakingly realizing that she will never get a public vindication of their love, and eventually may be relegated to the role of mistress even though she came first. When Maddy imagines Olly’s future girlfriend whom her mother invokes, Maddy imagines a white teenage girl. Even a healthy, intelligent, black girl is in danger in a swimsuit at a mixed race party: ask Dajerria Becton. Everything, Everything may not talk about race, but it is there.

This movie was just too unrealistic for me to enjoy. I guessed the twist the minute it started.

[SPOILER ALERT]

 

The whole house set-up was clearly a lie. If you are a doctor, you should not go anywhere near your SCID suffering daughter, but you’re cuddling with her on the sofa. Sure. Germs are not just on fomites, but are generated by the human body. If you can teach protocol to the nurses, teach it to the teenager. THAT is how I knew that girl wasn’t sick. I assume that she is blackmailing her mother by threatening to press charges unless she bankrolls her trip to NYC. She should have died the minute that she entered the airport to get on the plane to go to Hawaii. Healthy people get sick after a one-hour flight. I love Hawaii, but you have to have incredible stamina to feel barely functional in the first 24 hours after landing. However, she went shopping and jumped off cliffs without even a tiny water bottle in sight. No!

I wholeheartedly agree that the dying sick girl trope is as tiresome as her sister, the manic pixie girl, who solely exists to make the male protagonist’s life fuller. Even if I liked Sweet November because it stars two gorgeous people, and even if it means that the talented, beautiful Olivia Cooke may never be able to work again (Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, The Quiet Ones, The Signal, Bates Motel—I haven’t seen the last two seasons yet), that is not what Everything, Everything is. Maddy is the protagonist, and she isn’t dying or sick. She is being gaslit, which is why I think that Everything, Everything would make a better twist on the Gothic horror genre if it could stop rationalizing the likeable mother’s abuse and just show her for what she is—a villain, albeit a sympathetic one.

Unfortunately one problem with glorifying mothers and constantly deferring to them (and parents in general) as shown in films like The Harvest is that sometimes mothers are wrong and are not always thinking of their child’s best interests. Mothers’ judgment can be unwittingly clouded by self-interest and result in abuse even while mothers are simultaneously making tremendous sacrifices and nurturing her children. The scariest part of Everything, Everything is a casual comment made by Maddy that no one knows that she exists except for her mother, her nurse and the nurse’s daughter. When she meets Olly, she transforms from a ghost, wearing all virginal white, not allowed to touch anyone or anything outside her home, to a real life woman, which is what she is at 18 years old, albeit still a dependent child because of her mother’s abuse. The idea of grounding a grown-ass woman with no access to the outside world by restricting what little access she has to the outside world is monstrous. Sadly, this film does not see Maddy as being in misery, but being protected.


Sarah G. Vincent is an infovore who is originally from NYC and has lived in Massachusetts since 1993. She received an A.B., cum laude, in History and Film Studies from Harvard University in 1997 and received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2000, where she was also an editor and arts reporter at the Crimson/FM and worked at the Harvard Film Archives. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she published “The Cultural Context of the Shopping Mall: Tension Between The Patron’s Right of Access and the Owner’s Right to Exclude.” She is in a committed, exclusive spiritual relationship with the Triune God and for more information, directs readers to look at the Apostle’s Creed.

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