Living the first eighteen years of one’s life without being able to go outside might sound torturous, and while Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) doesn’t appear too miserable amid her books, models, writing, and dreams, she craves a connection with someone besides her mom, her nurse, and her only friend, Rosa. Her wish is granted when Olly (Nick Robinson) glides by on the street outside her window, beaming up at his new neighbor and readily fulfilling the role of the boy-next-door. Immediately their love captivates them, but Maddy’s illness, SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency), makes getting together impossible.
Excellent performances from the two leads, as well as the supporting cast, combined with perceptive direction by Stella Meghie, brilliant writing from J. Mills Goodloe (based on the book by Nicola Yoon), and unbrazably solid work from the rest of the crew, create a fresh, engaging story for both teens and adults. Maddy’s routine home life quickly escapes its dreary orbit as Olly courts her via text messages, through-the-window smiles, and a daring visit which threatens to debilitate her minimally functional immune system. In a few surreal encounters with her longed-for boyfriend, dreamlike manifestations of their lovesick message exchanges, the partitioned lovers converse in bright white surroundings where Maddy’s childhood toy, a spaceman figurine, comes to life and drifts amicably around the room.
At the center of the story, the relationships between Maddy and her mother, her and her nurse, and her and Olly, have a lot to say about the transition from teens to adulthood. As a physician, Pauline nurtures and fiercely protects her daughter from a world of potential hazards to her delicate health. They spend time playing phonetic Scrabble and reminiscing about Maddy’s father. She encourages her daughter’s interests as long as they don’t involve anything that could lead to her suffering down the road. Carla stays with her while her mom is at work, and shows more compassion regarding the limited existence imposed by her illness. Olly, concerned about the threat of Maddy’s immune deficiency, falls in love and above all wants to be part of her life.
Some of the film’s most beautiful scenes illustrate the triumph of love over fear, when the characters face the possibility of hurt and loss, yet overcome for the sake of life itself, for each other, and because their hearts insist they do. “Where would you go, if you could?” he asks her. “The ocean. I’ve never seen it.” The common viruses in the atmosphere outside her tightly sealed, thoroughly filtered house don’t prevent her from following this dream of living the perfect day, although perhaps they should. A person with SCID could easily die after exposure to an environment that hasn’t been sterilized, air that hasn’t been purified, due to having little or no T-lymphocyte and B-lymphocyte cell function. When Maddy comes face-to-face with a chance to fulfill her destiny, the germs don’t matter.
The second feature film for Meghie, the first starring role for Stenberg, Everything, Everything shines as a compelling film for young adults, that many parents can enjoy as well. The protagonist never discovers the ability to see the future, regenerate her body in seconds, move objects with her mind, or command the elements of nature, but she’s a hero nonetheless. What she does find is the strength to believe in who she truly is, and to walk by faith upon a path toward the woman she’s meant to become.