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[Review] 'All The Bright Places': A Hopeful Portrait of Young Love

"He taught me that you don't have to climb a mountain to stand on top of the world. That even the ugliest of places can be beautiful, as long as you take the time to look. That it's okay to get lost... as long as you find your way back."


From its first few minutes to the last words spoken, All The Bright Places remains a beacon of hope - an inspiring message that is pivotal to its targeted young audience. Adapted from Jennifer Niven's 2015 novel of the same name, the film is not only a shining example of how to adapt a young adult fiction novel into a romantic drama film for Netflix, but it also deals well with the modern themes of young love and mental illness at hand.


Featuring a stellar cast, including the likes of young talents such as leads Justice Smith (Finch) and Elle Fanning (Violet), as well as Alexandra Shipp (who plays Finch's sister, Kate), the film also features some well-known comedic actors in supporting roles. Luke Wilson (who plays Fanning's dad, James) and Keegan-Michael Key (who plays Smith's counselor, James) - despite their minimal roles and screentime - still get to exercise their dramatic chops in some meaningful scenes between them and Smith and Fanning's Finch and Violet.


As her dad in the film, Wilson plays off Fanning very well, really selling the idea of a grieving father who's trying his best attempts to reconnect his family emotionally and be strong and ideally present for his daughter. In his minimal role, he still sells this character well, especially towards the end of the film. There's a softspoken scene near the end of the film, where Violet engages in a conversation with him, bringing up an event that happens at the beginning of the film that he does not know about until then, and the devastation but also worry that he wears on his face comes so naturally and feels so authentic that it entirely builds up that conversation to be very moving.


Wilson plays Violet's dad to a tee, but it's truly Smith and Fanning's film, as Finch and Violet. They're not at all new to the industry; they've both had their fair share of big blockbusters, smaller art films, and critical hits, including Super 8, Maleficient, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, The Neon Demon and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yet, it feels like All The Bright Places is where they finally get to shine (no pun intended). They are wonderful young actors and their characters reflect off each other incredibly well. The formation of their relationship feels entirely authentic and unfolds naturally in a beautiful and exuberant manner that feels so true to the tangibility of young love.

Smith has a meatier role to dive into, with the obvious conflict of Finch's switch between his lively, perky and bubbly personality and his cold, distant, destructive outbursts. Smith paints a fine line between the two distinct moods that occupy his character Finch; it always remains a respectful and genuine portrait of mental illness and the difficulty of dealing with it in our modern landscape.


Fanning has a quieter performance to tackle, but she exhibits the shy, discreet personality of Violet in a human sense that often feels quite relatable. Violet - who along with her family is dealing and grieving with the death of her sister - is far more reserved and soft in comparison to Smith's extroverted Finch, but Finch's outward behavior only brings out the best in Fanning's Violet, and the two performances really lovingly play off each other in quite a uniquely heart-warming way.


Finch and Violet are definitely the shining lights of the film. The scenes exhibiting their relationship are extremely lovable and have a telling effect of tenderness and warmth. There are moments between them that just go silent for a few seconds - no noise, no dialogue, just the two staring longingly and lovingly at each other - and it's simply beautiful and emotional to watch. It's quite adorable and poignant watching their relationship grow and unfold, seeing them learn more about each other and how to deal with each other. It's simply touching to see it happen, and the profound effect it has on just how affecting and inspiring it is, only makes the heartbreaking ending all the more devastating, but at the same time, all the more sanguine about the future.

All The Bright Places is a timely adaptation of an inspiring novel that affectingly dives into the themes of young love and mental illness among young adults in a respectful and honest manner. Justice Smith and Elle Fanning shine through as the film's leads and exhibit some truly beautiful and moving chemistry that only inspires more warmth in the hopeful nature of the film. If you're looking for a film to watch on Netflix this weekend, this sweet romantic drama that deals with the complexity of young love is the film you should be seeing.


Score: ★★★½

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