Thankfully, it was short.
Nothing stings quite like the betrayal of a movie trailer that’s lied to you. Has that ever happened to you? You watch the trailer for a movie and go, “wow! That looks like a story that I’d be interested in. Can’t wait to check it out!” And then when you actually see the movie, the plot and tone are completely different? I HATE when that happens. I feel like I get cheated out of seeing a movie I really wanted to see, and then get stuck sitting through a disappointing movie that I hope at one point shifts into the movie I expected from the trailer. The trailer for All Together Now (2020) seemingly promised me a musical teen dramedy that appeared to be so delightfully charming and moving, I actually teared up watching it. I swear to God, thats true. I was so excited and then when I watched the movie… I can only describe watching All Together Now as the movie equivalent of opening a bag of chips and finding more than half the bag empty.
Based on the novel, “Sorta Like a Rockstar,” by Matthew Quick, All Together Now follows Amber Appleton, a charitable and optimistic high school student who dreams of becoming a performer. Homeless and helping her mother through her alcohol addiction, Amber learns to work through these hardships while also learning to accept help from others.
From a behind-the-scenes perspective, I was so on board with this movie. It was worked on by the same people who contributed to Love, Simon (2018), and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) so I went in with a lot of faith. After about 10 minutes in, all my faith evaporated. Things worsened around the 20 minute mark where I declared the movie thoroughly uninteresting and not very unique. Harsh? Maybe. But when you consider all of the incredible potential this movie had and how greatly it wastes it on bland characters, boring storylines, and clichéd writing, it makes for a practically insufferable viewing experience. I mean, come on. How are you going to put Carol Burnett and Fred Armisen in your movie and not give them ANY solid comedic material to work with? That’s just bonkers!
All Together Now‘s heart is certainly in the right place. It attempts to tell an uplifting story about the power of perseverance and community, but gets bogged down by a draining protagonist, unexpected tonal shifts, and multiple storylines that could have either been heavily edited down, or eliminated all together. Seriously, this movie is low-key about nothing. It jumps from Amber’s mom’s addiction, to raising money for her school to buy a new tuba (sis, tell the principal and make them replace the school property. You have bigger fish to fry!), to auditioning for a performing arts school, to her dog needing money for surgery…it’s a lot. And while some of it piqued my interest, the movie never devotes an appropriate amount of time to any of these plotlines for any of them to feel worthwhile. Or, frankly, worth watching. All Together Now isn’t terrible by any means, but it suffers dearly from trying to do too much. What’s worse, is that what it does has nothing new to say about the material. There are so many scenes that have nothing to add to the overall movie that it’s very easy and tempting to skip through a large majority of this movie. Go ahead. No one would blame you. 70 per cent of the movie is just Amber silently staring at things anyway.
One thing you absolutely shouldn’t skip however, is Justina Machado’s phenomenal performance. First of all, I was so ecstatic to see Machado would have a starring role in this movie because, let’s be honest: Netflix owes her big time for cancelling One Day at a Time (2017 – present). They need to let her star in their next six movies. Y’know, maybe just ones that are better quality than All Together Now. Despite the movie not being that great, Machado’s performance as Amber’s mom, Becky, absolutely is. Machado is an amazing actress, one who is severely underrated. She emotes so well and does such a great job of making you feel exactly what emotion she’s feeling, whether it’s unbridled joy or debilitating despair. Machado gives me chills. She’s expectedly the best part of All Together Now, though mistakenly underutilized. Honestly, between her and Burnett, this movie is clueless when it comes to what to do with their talented actresses. Sidenote, have you noticed that Netflix LOVESSS to put a famous old actress in their teen movies as, “crotchety old nursing home lady who dispenses wisdom and / or financial aid on the plucky protagonist?” Keep your eyes peeled. It happens more often than you think.
Speaking of protagonists, Auli’i Cravalho stars as Amber and I have to say, she’s a lovely leading actress. Talented and endearing, I was especially impressed by Cravalho when the movie called on her to act through some truly emotional scenes. Amber gets put through the ringer in this movie and Cravalho steps up to the plate and delivers a spirited performance. I’d love to see what she could do with better material and direction. However, for every scene of poignant acting, there are dozens of over the top, sickeningly sweet, optimism. I have nothing against optimism and think movies could use more of it in general, but in All Together Now it’s just too fucking much. Even the characters complain about Amber’s “insufferable cheer!” Maybe it’s just me, but I’m getting a little bored of teen protagonists (especially in Netflix movies) whose sole personality trait seems to be “aggressively charitable and innocent. It occasionally feels like a facade or ingenuine. As much as I like goodhearted people succeeding, I like a little well-roundedness and variety when it comes to my young protagonists as well. The movie portrays Amber as an ANGEL and I think some realism would have really helped ground this movie and help it sell the message of perseverance that it hammers home so hard.
Back in my high school writer’s craft class (there’s a point to this, I promise), there was kind of an unspoken competition between the students to see who could write the most tragically bleak story. Addiction, death, crime, and failure were all plotpoints we included in the hopes it made out story sound more interesting. That’s what All Together Now feels like. Homelessness, alcoholism, sickness, death, bankruptcy, dropping out of school…when this movie isn’t being aggressively sweet, it’s piling on the misfortune and tragedy. There’s never any middle ground. You either get one extreme or the other and the end result is a movie that goes from Nickelodeon kids show one minute, to A24 drama the next. It’ll make your head spin! Somehow though, despite all of that drama going on, the movie as a whole still manages to be slow, predictable, and unremarkable. In fact, there were many times I had to force myself to keep paying attention. Hey, at the very least, I can give this movie props for looking great. The way it was shot gave All Together Now a cinematic quality you just don’t see in many Netflix movies. The writing quality however, was spot-on for Netflix.
All Together Now feels like the type of movie you watch in school when you need to learn about the dangers of alcohol, or the importance of community spirit. Both important topics, but a bizarre discovery when I assumed I’d be watching a delightful teen dramedy. If I learned anything from this movie, it’s that Netflix cannot be trusted. They almost had me on their side there with a recent string of solid releases, but now they’re back on my shit list. Sigh. Stay tuned. I’m almost certain that I’ll have many more frustrations with Netflix in the near future.
Have you seen All Together Now? What did you think?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!