In 1976, an ABC made-for-TV movie became part of the cultural landscape. “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” in which “the girl next door makes a teen born with immune deficiencies want to leave his germ-free bubble.” A huge hit, the film catapulted John Travolta’s career into “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.”
Flash forward 40 years, and we have “Everything, Everything,” a role-reversed “Bubble” transported to a high-tech, social media-driven and diverse world based on the Young Adult book by Nicola Yoon.
The bubble in this case is a glass house. Madeline “Maddy” Whittier is confined to her ultra-modern, antiseptic home due to an immune disorder which makes her allergic to everything.
She wears oxy-white bright T-shirts, takes architecture classes online in which she builds elaborate models and writes Spoiler Alert capsule book reviews online. (“Flowers for Algernon: Algernon is a mouse. The mouse dies.”) The film’s title comes from “The Little Prince:” “Love is everything, everything.”
Maddy’s mother is a physician and she has a loving nurse who watches over her and keeps her company. Maddy spends her 18th birthday playing phonetic Scrabble and watching “Moonstruck” with her mom. She is remarkably well-adjusted considering she has never ventured outside.
Maddy is played by Amandla Stenberg, who was Rue in “The Hunger Games,” and has had roles in TV’s “Sleepy Hollow” and “Mr. Robinson,” not to be confused with her co-star, Nick Robinson, who had roles on “Melissa and Joey” and “Jurassic World.” (Six degrees of Beyonce here -- Stenberg had roles in the “Lemonade” videos and Anika Noni Rose, who plays her mom was also one of the “Dreamgirls.”)
Stenberg is stunningly beautiful, and you can understand why her next-door neighbor Olly Bright quickly falls head over heels seeing her gazing out her window. Soon they are texting and chatting on the phone incessantly. The film portrays their texted conversation in face-to-face fantasy sequences rather than showing texting, which is, unsurprisingly, boring to watch. The social media focus extends to the taped opening where Stenberg and Robinson welcome the audience and ask them to share their reactions via hashtag.
As Maddy’s relationship with Olly blossoms, so does she. Her clothes start getting colorful, she wears makeup and carries herself differently. (One notable exception is perhaps cinema’s most ill-fitting, non-flattering swimsuit.) There are some disconnects—a credit card Maddy gets online enables elaborate travel and it is nonsensical that her nurse’s daughter can come into the house while no one else can.
This is the second effort of director Stella Meghie ("Jean of the Joneses"), and while we need more mainstream films directed by women of color, there are some rookie mistakes. When Maddy finally ventures out into the world, director Meghie misses the opportunity to illustrate the experience of discovery and awakening. The somewhat flat ending also is a disappointment and, perhaps most bizarrely, the direction and cinematography often make Maddy’s exquisite house look more enticing than the outside world.
The screenplay was co-written by Yoon and J. Mills Goodloe, who previously wrote the screenplays for “The Age of Adaline” and “Pride.” Bringing beloved characters to the screen always poses challenges. While the stars are attractive, their chemistry is inconsistent and it would have been nice to see more emotion, especially when Stenberg has good reason to be angry. Robinson is teen heartthrob material, but we do not see enough of his interesting family story to let him display any depth.
“Everything, Everything” may have one foot in the Twitterverse, but the other is planted firmly in 1976. Hopefully it draws its audience to read “The Little Prince” and watch “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”… with their moms.
★ ★ ½ (out of 4)
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose
Director: Stella Meghie
Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality.
Running time: 96 minutes
The lowdown: A teenager who's lived a sheltered life because she's allergic to everything falls for the boy who moves in next door.