Review: ‘All the Bright Places’ is a Guilty Pleasure Teen Drama

Love can sweep you off your feet, but it can also break your heart. Earlier this month, Netflix released the follow-up of the film that stole people’s heart. ‘To All the Boys: P.S I Still Love You’ gave everyone the mushy and feel-good experience that love is supposed to be all about. To balance this, Netflix came up with another story, the one that aims to leave you in a pool of your own tears while also making you look on the bright side of life. ‘All the Bright Places’ is just that story, but with more essence than the dreaminess of other teen romance dramas.

All the Bright Places Plot

Violet Markey is on the ledge of the bridge, contemplating her final moments, when Theodore Finch shows up. He convinces her to not jump, and later, asks her to become his partner in a school project. At first, she resists the idea. She is still too tied up in her grief to go out into the world and interact with people. In the end, she relents and embarks on a journey that also kickstarts her healing process. She has heard stories about Finch, about him being called a freak, but he appears different in person. She falls in love with him, and the closer she gets, the more she realises that there is a completely different side to him.

All the Bright Places Review

‘All the Bright Places’ ticks all the right boxes when it comes to teen dramas. There is a “boy meets girl” mixed with “opposites attract” theme. One of them is popular in the circle while the other is pretty much an outcast. They are brought together by a tragedy, and one helps the other heal. In a short span of time, they click, and friendship gives way to romance. There is a little bit of parental intervention, too; nothing you wouldn’t expect.

What made Jennifer Niven’s novel better, despite all these common tropes, is its attention to teen mental health issues. In the time when a number of stories had resorted to the trick of using terminal illness to add emotional twist in the story (like ‘The Fault in Our Stars’), while so many others stuck to the rom-com vibe of it (like Netflix’s own cinematic incarnations of popular YA bestsellers), Niven used her platform to show the genuine struggles of teenagers that often go unnoticed and, hence, unhealed.

Bringing Niven as the screenwriter for the adaptation was a wise choice. It is assumed that she would have helped give a direction to the story that comes from her own experiences. The bottom line of this story does not lie in its romance or the meet-cute or the love that defies all odds. It intends to show people how children have to face the horrors that can be helped; how they shrink in their own shell, not knowing to whom they can turn for help. It is a difficult time for them, as they already feel misunderstood and unaccepted. This story is supposed to open our eyes for the people in our own vicinity, who might be going through a difficult time but not letting anyone know about it.

It is a strong message and the one that needs to be propagated further. However, the film doesn’t do justice to the book, at least on this front. It starts out this way, focusing on the survivor’s guilt and the depression that stems from grief, but unlike the book, which turns towards the mental illness of the other protagonist, the film skids while tackling that curve and crashes. To their credit, the young actors, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith, stay true to the material that they are provided.

Fanning aptly portrays the initial hopelessness of Violet and then her grief and guilt towards another loss. She brings out the character’s restraint from going back into the world and pokes at your heart, if not breaking it entirely, in the emotionally heavy moments. Similarly, Smith shows an understanding with Finch and brings out his best moments, while giving us a faint glimpse of his worst moods. And he could have been even better, had he received the opportunity to allow Finch to flesh out more. But they are limited in their performances by the story.

‘All the Bright Places’ is not a bad watch by any measure. In fact, it is just as good as any other rom-com or teen drama that you might enjoy on a rainy day. It can be one of those guilty pleasures. But it could have been so much more. Had it given more space to the issues that it actually rests upon, it would have done more justice to the beloved novel. The story is tilted more towards Violet’s side, and Finch’s issues remain shrouded, despite receiving centre-stage in the last half of the film. Had the film attained this balance between both protagonists, it would have shined brighter.

Rating: 2.5/5