Who is this lady? I thought. Turns out, she’s one helluva writer. And her first two books–Everything, Everything (2014) and The Sun is Also a Star (2016)–have been tearing people’s hearts in two all over the world. Not too long ago, I decided to see the movie for myself but only because my friend wouldn’t shut up about it. But knowing this book was being touted as the next The Fault in Our Stars, I was admittedly uninterested in watching yet another movie romanticizing illness.
Well, I must really enjoy the taste of my own foot because this movie was nothing like I expected. For all intents and purposes, here are three things that make Everything, Everything a must-see.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t read the book, so please take this into consideration when responding with critiques of your own.
Maddy and Olly were real teenagers
Often, the biggest issue I find with teenage characters in YA is that they are too perfect and not relatable enough. In John Green‘s TFiOS, for instance, I absolutely hated Hazel and Augustus. They were two of the most pretentious little shits I had ever read. Never in my life have I met teenagers who spoke in such long, drawn out philosophical monologs as Hazel and Augustus. They were trying way too hard to sound and act more mature than they were; and while this was a minor flaw in the book as a whole, it hindered my reading experience.
In contrast, Maddy and Olly, did not seem like imposters at all. They are flawed, emotional and have more or less self-control and restraint as expected of two age-appropriate teenagers. (Btw, Maddy is 18, and Olly is around the same age, I’m guessing.) These star-crossed lovers made the movie what it was because, although their love seems ill-fated, considering the state of Maddy’s health, they don’t allow themselves to be hindered by the conditions set out before them.
Even though Maddy is a bit dauntless in her pursuit of Olly, her impulses seemed rational from an 18-year-old’s perspective. Even though she literally puts her life on the line for another boy, you have to consider her life before Olly. The girl has been held captive in her own home her entire life. All things considered, Maddie’s will to risk her life to experience something outside of eternal encasement is not too difficult to understand. I, for one, am really pleased with the honesty Yoon takes in demonstrating what it really means to risk your life for the one you love.
Now, I will say this much, I do think the way in which Maddy and Olly fall in love is a bit too Romeo & Juliet for my tastes. I also thought Olly’s instant pursuit of Maddy was a little awkward too: Boy meets girl next door through window. Girl notices him. Boy waves to girl the next day. Girl waves back. Boy introduces himself to Girl’s mom in hopes of meeting her. Girl’s mom is not having it. Boy flirts with girl via window screen messages a la Taylor Swift‘s “You Belong With Me” music video. Girl is ultimately impressed. Girl and boy fall immediately in love, surprising no one.
There was very little development in the way they meet and there was no friendship, which could be perceived as alarming. The single fact that they go straight from pleasantries to romance, without much friendship building in between, is unbelievable. Then again, they did text each other for a period of time before then, but still, you don’t really see something like that between teenagers…Then again, they are of age, like, sex-appropriate age, and Maddy and Olly clearly have the hots for one another, as you’ll see in the movie.
The depiction of mental illness
Now, is it just me or has anyone else noticed the growing popularity of mental illness as a trope in YA? It’s possible that I haven’t been reading enough from the genre to realize this early on, but it seems like most, if not all, blockbuster book adaptations in young adult literature feature some sort of mental illness as a plot device. I’ve noticed this in films like The Fault in Our Stars and The Perks of Being a Wallflower and so on and so forth, and with each rework, the central character always seems to be plighted with some debilitating disease that becomes the foundation of the story.
I guess my bone to pick with these representations is that there should be more to the character’s life than their illness. Shouldn’t a person’s life be defined by their aspirations, goals, feelings (outside of those dictated by illness) in their story? Because that is what Everything, Everything did for me. I didn’t feel like Maddy was some intolerable teen who was too burdended to see beyond the wall that was her illness that she couldn’t also see the happiness within arm’s reach. As a matter of fact, Maddy is fairly optimistic in the movie, about everything, really. Still, she doesn’t compromise her happiness because she is ill; Maddy’s a teenager who doesn’t allow her illness to conquer her and I think that’s a very powerful message.
Even though she eventually finds this happiness in Olly, their affair does not become the only trajectory. While I would hardly call her independent, Maddy definitely has dreams outside of falling for the boy next door. She runs a successful book blog, is a creative, and a scholar. I think there’s something to be said about that. And while her illness is not at all erased from her character, it isn’t so much of a hindrance to her story that it overshadows who it is she’s trying to become, or who she chooses to be.
The normality of interracial relationships
In my initial preview of the film, one commentor argued that interracial relationships that border on black/white romance in cinema were nothing extraordinary. In fact, they regarded the trope as an “old movie tradition” that this was just another example of “acceptable interracial love.” To their defense, I get it: White boy falls for black girl, black girl falls for white boy. It doesn’t get more vanilla than that.
However, if you read into Yoon’s character descriptions, you’ll understand that Maddy isn’t just black: she’s part Korean, too. Which was very much inspired by her own, real-life relationship, as her husband is of Asian descent, too. So, in a way, this is a more “complexed” interracial relationship than we’re used to seeing. Granted, some viewers will argue, “Well, she’s still black. It doesn’t matter that she’s ‘mixed.’ (Cue ignorance, amiright?)
— Nicola Yoon (@NicolaYoon) May 1, 2014
On the flip side, I think I would have been more annoyed by a very different yet familiar trope that I think gets too much play with interracial romances: Preppy white boy saves inner city black girl, black girl’s parents don’t approve, racial conflict ensues. This classist trope is so fucking intolerable, and I appreciate that Yoon doesn’t cross this line with Olly and Maddy’s story. Actually, the stereotype is reversed: Olly’s life is anything but perfect (considering the domestic violence in the film), while Maddy is noticeably wealthier than the average typecast. All things considered, the couple are still pretty much on par with one another. I loved this depiction because it shows that not every black character is destitute and in need to saving, and that not every white character lives a pristine life.
Not to mention, the subject of race is handled so subtly in the movie that it isn’t even important, and that was the only point that mattered to me. Everything, Everything proves that these relationships can exist without being overstated. Olly and Maddy just loved each other and they never cared to acknowledge their racial differences, which was brilliant. I don’t know if this was Yoon’s intent, but the way these characters just seemlessly fall in love with one another is as cheesy as it is endearing.