A little charm goes a long way, as evidenced by “Everything, Everything,” a sweet if unsubtle young-adult drama based on a 2015 novel of the same name, which opens everywhere Friday. Aspiring to be this year’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” it’s another terminal-illness romance, this time set on the picturesque shores of the West Coast.
Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), 18, lives with her widowed mother in an enviable Los Angeles estate. She’s granted every convenience of modern youth, the Pacific Ocean a mere three miles from her front steps—except she can’t experience it. Homebound since infancy, Maddy suffers from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), meaning her body doesn’t produce enough lymphocytes to withstand even a whiff of the outside world. Her home is a lovely airtight cocoon, her all-white wardrobe irradiated for maximum protection, her contact limited to her physician mother (Anika Noni Rose) and longtime nurse (Ana de la Reguera).
A voracious, inquiring reader and thinker—she writes a blog called “Short Spoiler Reviews,” a conceit that feels too precious by half—it’s only a matter of time before Maddy’s desire to explore threatens her health. It takes a boy to prompt it: a black-clad, quick-witted, similarly searching loner named Olly Bright (Nick Robinson), who has just moved in next door.
The two teenagers quickly form an attraction, despite Maddy’s immobility. For a while, “Everything, Everything” is less a fantasy for young people than for their parents: In the 21st century, where sexual mores grow looser by the month, here’s a romance in which touch is forbidden and chastity is mandatory. Elaborate text conversations and window-to-window communiqués take the place of first dates and bases rounded. Director Stella Meghie cleverly visualizes the young couple engaging each other more fully in the dreamworld of the miniature models Maddy designs in her rec room—hyperreal libraries and diners whose only other residents are misplaced astronauts resigned to their bubbles.
The bubble does, eventually, break, because love finds a way—and the film has a surprising surfeit of surprises to offer when it does. Film critics such as myself can find plenty of nits to pick with Everything, Everything—the unbearably drenching score, voice-over narration that leans too heavily on passages from the book, a comic device borrowed liberally from “Annie Hall,” a detour in a Hawaii that feels bizarrely depopulated and economically impossible—but why bother? It’s clearly not a film for us.
“Everything, Everything” is for precocious Gen-Zers seeking a star-crossed, finely acted love story that makes sense to their tech-driven generation, and it’s a smart enough adaptation to pull it off. For its target audience, it will hit a resounding bulls-eye.