Review: All the Bright Places (2020)

I was somehow both outraged and bored. 

I’ve officially given up on Netflix. Well, to be more accurate, I’ve officially given up on any of their movies that fall under the description of “teen romance.” From the mediocre Tall Girl (2019) to the abysmal The Perfect Date (2019), the platform just can’t seem to deliver a thoroughly entertaining and moving romance that will last in the hearts and minds of its viewers. By the way, check out my reviews for Tall Girl and The Perfect Date, here and here. Then there’s the newest entry, All the Bright Places (2020). Which, although attempting to deliver a powerful message about young love and mental health, ends up just being a dull, frustrating mess that you’re best off ignoring. Trust me, this movie will not be remembered fondly.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 10.21.10 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

Based on Jennifer Niven’s novel of the same name, All the Bright Places follows Finch and Violet, two teenagers dealing with their own emotional traumas who become partnered for a school project. The two eventually begin a relationship and in the process, learn to put their hurtful pasts behind them and live in the hopefulness of their present.

Yikes, where do I even begin? This movie was confused. And irresponsible. And tiresome. Seriously, I don’t have too many positive things to say about All the Bright Places. For starters, the plot is one of the most vague and uninteresting that I’ve ever come across. From what I read, the movie was advertised as being a romance-drama in which Finch and Violet open up about their struggles with mental health and help each other work through it to live healthier lives. The movie lays the groundwork for pulling that off, but abandons the idea completely in favour of telling a clichéd, bland, insufferable teen love story that was severely lacking.

All the Bright Places attempts to be a heavy, emotional drama, but ends up being a copy and paste of past melodramatic teen romances with a muddled and half-assed message about mental health. In the movie, Violet is grieving after her sister’s recent death, and Finch struggles with unspecified issues. I loved that through friendship and eventually, love, Finch is able to help Violet find herself again, but his storyline is handled horribly. The movie never once addresses what’s actually going on with Finch, shows him seeking help for what’s going on once and without interest, and has him suffer even more tragedy. What is the movie trying to say? That if you have a mental illness, your only option is to do nothing about it, ignore it, don’t seek help and then have a tragic ending?  Why was this a story that needed to be told? All the Bright Places has good intentions, but its final message is damaging and just a terrible way to end a movie.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 10.38.21 PM
Credit: cinemablend.com / Netflix

I was thankful to watch a Netflix romance that didn’t star Noah Centineo for once, but after finding out the male lead was Justice Smith, I kind of miss Centineo. Smith is admittedly better in this than past movie roles of his I’ve seen – check out my review for Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) here – but as an actor, he’s still overwhelmingly blah to me. As Finch, Smith tries WAAAYY too hard to play the angsty, pretentious, hipster bad boy and it’s just tedious to watch. Especially considering how poorly his character gets treated. Actually, it only took me about seven minutes into this movie to declare it thoroughly insufferable and nowhere near worthy of an hour and 47 minute runtime. A solid 15 – 20 minutes could have easily been cut. I officially can’t stand Smith now and will actively avoid any movie he’s in.

Opposite Smith is Elle Fanning as Violet. Thank God for Fanning. Though, much like the rest of the movie, her character suffers from a poor script, her considerable talent is the shining beacon of All the Bright Places. She’s a talented actress who more than carries this movie, even if I was distracted by the movie’s insistence to dress her solely in clothes a librarian in the 90s would wear. Fanning captures the grief and despair that someone who’s just lost her sister would be feeling perfectly, but those moments are overshadowed by the central romance. Which, is hard to watch because of the zero chemistry between herself and Smith. Elle Fanning is wonderful, but even she can’t save All the Bright Places from cheesy, melodramatic lines like, “what are you most afraid of? Being ordinary.”

All the Bright Places is a dull, monotone, movie that is a chore to pay attention to. The fact that every cast member is acting at a two, does little to help. Everything about the story, its characters, and even its tone, feels forced, familiar, and utterly forgettable. Nothing of note really happens and the movie comes off more as a failed PSA than an actual narrative. Hell, it’s not even until the 30 minute mark that we even begin to get into Finch and Violet’s mental health issues, which the movie claims is its central plot. Seriously, there was a lot of bluster about teen love, making moments last, and cutesy romantic stuff, but not NEARLY enough attention put on the severity of mental illness and how to work through its hardships. For me, this movie had all the irresponsible ickiness of tragedy porn movies like Five Feet Apart (2019). By the way, you can check out my review for that movie, here.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 10.25.52 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Netflix

With the lacklutre dullness and overall messiness of All the Bright Places, I think I’ve just decided that I really don’t like most modern teen movies. They always try to be quirky and original and always end up being unwatchably mediocre. The last two that actually stood out and I would strongly recommend watching, are Love, Simon (2018) and Booksmart (2019). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. If you’re in the mood to watch a decent teen drama or romance, please, do yourself a favour and skip All the Bright Places. 

Have you seen All the Bright Places? What did you think?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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