Brett Haley – who previously directed the wonderful indie comedy “Hearts Beat Loud” is back with the new Netflix rom-com “All the Bright Places (2020).” While it looks like a fluffy romantic comedy from the trailers, it goes to some really dark places which might not be suitable for the age-group it aims at. While the narrative remains sensitive towards its heavy themes of mental-illness and suicide, it also ends up being a little problematic in it’s road to closure.
Based on Jennifer Niven’s 2015 novel, the film begins with high school student Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) contemplating the value of her life as she stands on the edge of a bridge. Theodore Fitch (Justice Smith) happens to be jogging around in this very moment of grave concern. He stops and strikes up a conversation with her. We are later introduced to him formally. Represented as the weird one at school, people call him ‘The Freak.’ Violet, on the other hand, is struggling to deal with the death of her sister. Fitch is intrigued by this reserved teenager who is unable to come out of the traumatic experience of letting her sister (cum best friend) go.
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He forces his way into her life, trying to figure out what is bothering her. While Violet is initially dismissive about his advances, she soon realizes that he is harmless. They form a formidable bond of friendship that soon blooms into love as they wander around Indiana for a school project. The new section of life helps Violet heal and move on from her past but Theodore vanishes into thin air every now and then.
“All the Bright Places” was meant to investigate the moments that fall into the in-between. Those invisible times in the couple’s life that were supposed to be an essential part of how they deal with mental illness. But, the film completely rejects Theodore arc. I get that it is there to act as a huge reminder of neglect but it is a problematic space in which Haley puts his protagonists. Seeing how this is sold as a romantic-comedy targeted towards a younger generation of teenagers – the overall messaging where one person heals the other to a point where they completely forget themselves is poorly conceived and overdrawn.
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The familiar YA adaption troops are used to instill a kind of sobering romance – leaving a short span of time to deal with the themes that reign heavy on the narrative. The chemistry between the lead pair helps in bridging that gap but never enough for the film to become memorable. The film has some important things to say. The need to look at the positives in life when it feels that every day turns out to be dark is one of them. There’s also a tragic third act that points at how negligence is something that can lead to life-altering moments. Overall, for a Netflix film made for a niche audience that consumes fluff, “All the Bright Places” is an apt click-bait. For others, it is a familiar tale that could have used helping hands to turn it into something that is mature and consumable.