Directed by: #BrettHaley
This review is being prefaced with a trigger warning because the film in discussion focuses on some serious themes including mental illness and suicidal thoughts. Would also advise viewer discretion if you are affected by these topics.
Based on the best-selling novel of the same title, All the Bright Places struggles to live up to its reputation. The film is falsely framed like a teenage romantic-comedy or a ‘coming-of-age’ film, but Violet (Elle Fanning) and Finch’s (Justice Smith) story is something a lot darker. Their story explores some very intense themes and follows both characters as they are governed by their mental health struggles.
Violet is having a difficult time in the aftermath of her sister’s death and is pushing everybody in her life away as a consequence. She no longer socialises, cannot get into a car and thinks there is no way out of feeling like this. Finch is apparently her salvation, meeting her at a crucial moment and making life-saving conversation with her. Usually stereotypically labelled as the school ‘freak,’ the audience learns that Finch is angry with the injustice that he has faced and wants to be seen. When their Geography teacher sets a project about places in Indiana as homework, Finch uses the task to help get Violet back out into the world. Along the way, Violet helps Finch with this, too.
The film has all the rom-com tropes and stereotypes that audiences have sat through over the years, but it doesn’t even use them ironically, making parts of the plot feel unoriginal. The story itself is cruel to Violet. Under a backdrop of impressive camera shots and colourful cinematography, the audience is permitted to feel some empathy for her and Finch. However, this tone is pushed aside at times by the basic and predictable structure that the film demonstrates. The script falls flat with cringey dialogue, providing a fantastic example of how adults believe modern-day teenagers talk to each other. And why on earth do boys think that the way to win a girl over is by sending her Virginia Woolf quotes? And why does this seem to work? Perhaps the back-and-forth of quotes to each other is now a profound declaration of teenage love, but All the Bright Places allows the building of romance to fall flat over than this – so any obvious sign of love appears completely out of nowhere.
After a few short-lived comical moments, the film gets serious and a bit more interesting. The audience is made to overlook important plot points, but can see that Finch is not always doing ok within himself. A real downside was that his narrative lacks depth and the complexity of his character is completely overlooked, making the film suffer because of it. Although Fanning provides an excellent performance in more tragic moments, the acting of the rest of the cast is awkward at times. No one character stands out as uniquely written and All the Bright Placesis made to feel like any other teen film with limited substance, rather than a film that is based on a best-selling novel.
Suicidal thoughts and mental health struggles are romanticised in the dialogue, making for a problematic narrative. The morbid motif is set by both Violet and Finch, as they both try to speak about death, but their discussions end up being jarring. It was a real shame, as these scenes really had the potential to spark a real dialogue and allow the characters to open up to the audience.
The film does have an important message. If you are a teenager, a young person, or indeed anyone that is struggling with their mental health – seek help. There are more people around you than you realise that will be able to understand and support you through the difficult times. It also lays emphasis on how two people, especially within a relationship, cannot fix each other, as this mentality can be toxic. However, these themes are washed over by a basic script, jarring attempts at comedy and flat performances.
In the past, Netflix has come under scrutiny with regards to representing mental health struggles ever since the show 13 Reasons Why. The trigger warning at the end of the film and not the start, along with a misleading trailer, suggests that there is still work to be done.
If you are expecting a cheesy love story, you will be in for a shock.