The Netflix adaptation of "All the Bright Places," a wonderfully bittersweet novel written by Jennifer Niven, follows two young adults in their journey of loss and love in the 21st century. The film highlights the unlikely relationship between misfit Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) and sociable-turned-quiet Violet Markey (Elle Fanning), after the passing of her sister in a traumatic car accident. Finch and Markey find themselves on a journey exploring the ins-and-outs of the seemingly mundane state of Indiana for a school project, but along the way learn to discover the beauty in the small and unexpected things in life.
The movie is not all sunshine and butterflies though, as it touches on Markey’s loss and trauma, as well as Finch’s deteriorating mental health characterized by what he calls “dark moods.” The movie eloquently dances around the topic of mental health, making sure to include the realness and raw emotions that come with all of the aforementioned loss and trauma, yet does not overstep itself in the way Netflix did while producing “13 Reasons Why.”
It should be noted however, that Niven’s novel does a better job at expanding on the feelings and inner workings of Finch’s brain that directly influence his real-time actions, but then again novels are often given more creative room to include things like this.
In general, I was a bit skeptical about jumping from book to movie, as one oftentimes does when you digest a book that you hold close to your heart, and begin to envision your characters and the plot in your own way.
Nonetheless, I give high praise to the diversity in cast; representation at every level from starring roles (Smith as Finch) to supporting roles (Keegan-Michael Key portraying the tough-love guidance counselor) and even down to Finch’s diverse friend group at school. Moreover, part of the relatability of the film can be lent to that representation of a high school student body, as well as the imperfection of the characters; there was a certain quirkiness to both the actors and characters they played that made them more approachable. They were by no means the alluring cast of "Riverdale," posing as your average high school ensemble.
It provides realistic insight to what it means and what it is like to be a teenager today, and what it is like to struggle with mental illness; it isn’t black and white, happiness exists among depression, and there isn’t a clear cut way to handle all of that.
Lastly, kudos to Keegan DeWitt for producing an absolutely beautiful score that makes you feel every emotion just a little bit more throughout the film — that is the beauty of music, my friends.
Overall, “‘All the Bright Places” was by no means an Oscar-winning film. It wasn’t a top 10 film of 2020 and most likely will eventually fade into that category of Netflix films you watch while you do homework as background noise. However, I recommend you give it a try for the message it has to tell, the reminder that mental illness is real and exists in a multitude of ways, shapes and forms. That we owe it to each other to be kind to one another, and in the words of Theodore Finch, “People don’t like messy,” but life is messy and we can only do our best to make each day count.