‘All The Bright Places’ review: tender Netflix romcom is a rare rose among the thorns

Elle Fanning stars in a moving drama that escapes the trappings of its genre

A common problem in Young Adult fiction adaptations is the feeling that characters are chained to very basic black-and-white personalities. It’s ‘boy meets girl’. It’s opposites attract. It’s resentment turned to devotion. These things can (and do) contribute to a successful relationship, but not exclusively – and not always at the expense of anything more colourful.

All The Bright Places prides itself on showing the complexities of love. There are a lot of common markers – boy does indeed meet girl, things start off rocky, and so on – but the film anchors itself in a sober openness that complications do occur, and they’re absolutely normal. The story follows Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) and Theodore Finch (Detective Pikachu‘s Justice Smith), two teenagers who meet at a crucial moment in each other’s lives. Finch finds Violet two years to the day after her sister was killed in a car accident. Fanning, usually so reliable for spreading optimism and light, carries grief convincingly. Behind thick circular glasses her mournful eyes stare aimlessly, her shoulders stay hunched. But this is where Finch comes in – he balances her sadness with infectious charisma, determined to lift her spirits without trivialising any pain. “Suicidal? You can say it,” Finch tells Violet early in their relationship.

All The Bright Places
New Netflix drama ‘All The Bright Places’ takes a look at the lasting impact of young love. Credit: Netflix

Their story does tick off some familiar moments – there’s a particularly frustrating twist of fate that mirrors The Fault in Our Stars extremely closely. But the two young stars are intelligent and empathetic enough to make up for it. Elsewhere, the music department crafts a soothing sonic landscape, full of fresh needle drops (there’s even a fleeting Maribou State cue) that weave an energetic thread to carry the story along.

All The Bright Places
Fanning and Smith take a bike ride in ‘All The Bright Places’. Credit: Netflix

Commendably, All The Bright Places never shies away from its discussion of mental illness. Occasional moments of dialogue resort to easy tropes (“I’m fucked up,” you’ll be surprised to hear), but the overall narrative is dignified when dealing with difficult, often indescribable feelings. It’s a film of open hearts, of unafraid kisses, of never-ending grief often lived in silence. With the familiar foundations of a well-worn genre, All The Bright Places builds something braver than expected. Something that reaches deeper than its Netflix contemporaries – and ends up surpassing them altogether.

Details

  • Director: Brett Haley
  • Starring: Elle Fanning, Alexandra Shipp, Felix Mallard
  • Release date: February 28
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