All The Bright Places Review
Updated: Mar 5, 2020
New Netflix film All the Bright Places is a coming of age tale focusing on the love story of Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) and Violet Market (Ellie Fanning). These two troubled teens are both lost, drifting through life until they find each other and direction in their lives. Finch helps awaken Violet from the grief that leaves her shut off and isolated from the world. The loss of her sister and best-friend is a crippling and destructive force in her life until Finch helps her discover the bright places once more; but Finch has dark demons of his own that haunt his past and threaten his future. Through a chance meeting on a bridge, Finch slowly befriends her, using their class project about the wonders of Indiana to his upmost advantage. At points his meddling feels a little stalkerish and in other moments, it is amazing to watch as he tries to help her find her place in the world once more. Trying to juggle a romance and the two lead character's significant mental health issues is a burden that this film does not quite carry well, leaving the overall effect to be slightly underwhelming. Though there are some touching moments, the emotional punch this film could have carried is just missing.
The first half of this film plays out much like a classical romance and just enough is done originally to keep it interesting like Finch serenading her through an Instagram story, an interesting modern take on a classic cliché. Their wanders through the wonders of Indiana are light and fun. The irony in the fact that the places they go are a little sad, pathetic and lame is done very well with the characters placing their own meaning on these places. We watch Violet grow and open up to having fun and talking about her grief with Finch, it felt natural and real. However, the second half of the film changes leaving the romance behind. It explores Finch's darker mental health issues and is a jarring and sudden change that alters the entire tone of the film. For me, this is where it struggles and begins to suffer. It cannot juggle both the gritty darker emotional elements while driving forward both characters and keeping the romance alive.
Justice Smith is a real breath of fresh air as Finch, he is larger than life and fun, but brings real emotion to his role the whole while. It is easy to tell the difference between his genuine smile and when he is grinning through his pain, trying to hide what he feels and thinks from everyone else. It is a powerful and dynamic performance and he is sorely missed when he is off screen. In comparison, Elle Fanning seemed stunted and a little wooden in her role as Violet. Her character is meant to be closed off, but she just came across as unlikable and a little self-absorbed in points of the film. When there is emotional heavy lifting to be done, she drops the ball slightly, and this is highlighted by Justice Smith's ability to deliver.
This film explores vitally important things shining a light on mental health in teenagers whilst also giving us a half-baked attempt at a romance story. It does not place blame on anyone like Netflix's mental health phenomenon 13 Reasons Why and this is for the better. It feels less sensationalised and more real. However, the lack of acting prowess in cert and a change of tone and pace in the second act really hinder the overall effects of the final half, leaving me feeling slightly underwhelmed.