All The Bright Places (Netflix)
Starring Elle Fanning, Justice Smith
Directed by Brett Haley
Rating: **(2 stars)
Here is a fine-on-paper film that confirms my worst suspicions. Books are best-left read. Putting them on film requires far more skill than this film’s director seems to possess.
All The Bright Places is laudable for its theme of being healed by healing someone who needs your support more than you do. Its heart is in the right place. Sad to say, not much else is in place in this film about visiting bright places, emotionally and geographically.
It sure takes time in getting there, as the broken Violet (Elle Fanning) is nurtured and courted by the even more broken Finch (Justice Smith). One has lost her sister in a car accident, and though I liked the way she is brought back to automobility by her adamant beau, the sequence where Violet gets into the car for her first post-tragedy drive is as stretched out as the yawns that you don’t even try to suppress (advantage of home-viewing, as for the disadvantages, let’s not even go there).
The film opens with Violet perched on the brink of a bridge ready to take the leap. She probably knows what we don’t. That this film isn’t going anywhere. In a sequence highly reminiscent of Siddharth Anand’s Anjaana Anjaani, Finch reaches just in time to dissuade the suicidal girl from taking the plunge. Ranbir Kapoor isn’t amused.
From this sombre beginning the film fails to build a plausible relationship between two broken youngsters mainly because I saw no chemistry between Fanning and Smith. They looked like two people exploring the dark territory of self-pity rather than two bright individuals seeking common ground. As for the supporting cast on the school campus, they look like youngsters auditioning for Dance India Dance featuring foreigners for a change.
By the time the inevitable tragedy occurred I had no interest in these two bereft souls. Because the screenplay was more lost than they could ever be. On the plus side, the greenery and tranquillity of suburban America are ably framed. But not one emotion in this made-to-order designer love story seemed genuine. Even the conversations between Finch and his shrink sound like something Woody Allen would write on a moody Monday morning and throw into the garbage before starting again.
Everyone deserves a second chance. Not the director of this film. The novel’s author Jennifer Niven should take director Brett Haley to task for squeezing out every ounce of life and breath from the original material. The screen adaptation is inexcusably inert.