For a movie reviewer, there are few review-writing challenges tougher than writing a synopsis of a film where one of the major characters is gravely ill. Do you assume your readers have already read the book on which it’s based and give away the ending – because “everyone” already knows it? Or do you play it coy? In “Everything, Everything” (based on the best-selling YA novel by Nicola Yoon), the main character (Amandla Stenberg, “The Hunger Games”) a teen who has never left the house since she was a toddler because of severe life-threatening allergies, spends her time (among other things) posting online book reviews, and we get to read several spoilers. So I’ll just say right away that this review also gives away the big reveal.
It’s hard to believe Amandla (though we have no reason not to) when she informs us from the start that if she goes outside, she may well die. After all, she looks perfectly healthy when we first meet her. More interestingly, how is it that she has never once tried to sneak out – even if for just a few minutes – anyway, risks be damned? (And how is it that she seems more poised and mature than most teens who can?) But her mother (Anika Noni Rose) has warned her that she has a compromised immune system – and her mom is also a doctor. This helps explain a big question mark once we learn mom’s “secret.” It also helps explain why Amandla never uses financial means as an excuse for not doing anything – she is only encumbered by the literal four walls of her home. But all that begins to change when a cute guy her age (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and begins flirting with her via cell – a valuable communication tool that say, Romeo and Juliet, lacked. Soon enough, Amandla is enlisting her day nurse (Ana de la Reguera) to help her secretly meet Nick in the flesh. Though they are supposed to maintain a strict distance between each other, pretty soon they’re within touching distance and falling in love.
One thing leads to another, and eventually, Amandla does sneak out to meet Nick – and not just to go to the local coffee shop but all the way to Hawaii by plane. (It’s summer which helps plug that plot hole a little.) When Anika discovers her daughter’s note, she notifies the authorities, but does not strangely enough, contact Nick’s parents or put a hold on Amandla’s credit card, so the two have an amazing impromptu vacation (they appear to be the only ones in Hawaii in several scenes) in which Amandla encounters the ocean for the first time (a long awaited dream). Sadly, Amandla eventually collapses and has to be rushed to the hospital, putting an end to their fun. But a surprising phone call from a medical professional who treated her in Hawaii suddenly sets Amandla’s world off kilter. Could it be that she isn’t really “sick” at all? Yes, folks, yes indeed. If she’s a victim of anything, it’s Munchausen’s syndrome – and her mom is the one who’s made everything up. Still, she has a second chance to tell Nick that she loves him, which she promptly takes.
There’s another recently released movie about the same topic: “Mommy: Dead and Dearest,” which is based on a real-life case. In that one, the daughter rebels by meeting a guy online and eventually becoming an accessory to murder. “Everything, Everything,” is nowhere that melodramatic in plot, but it follows a predictable teen movie romance course. Amandla is as good here as she was as Rue in “The Hunger Games,” although she looks far too healthy for anyone not to have caught on to mom’s deception by now. But there’s a happy ending with both teens ending up together. I don’t know if forgiveness is ultimately in the cards for mom, but the movie ends on an upbeat note.