Netflix’s ‘All The Bright Places’ packs a lovely punch

March 6, 2020

“Lovely” is certainly not the right word to describe “All The Bright Places.” “Lovely” could be used to describe Violet Markey’s (Elle Fanning) laugh, or the shots of rural Indiana, or even the original score composed by Keegan DeWitt. But this love story is far from lovely. Despite that, I’m drawn to this word. The 2020 Netflix film is based on the 2015 novel by Jennifer Niven with the same name. In that novel, Niven wrote, “lovely is a lovely word that should be used more often.” Though this wasn’t one of her quotes that made it into the movie, it will forever be the quote I associate with this story.

Careful viewers can even spot a sticky note that says “lovely” on both Theodore Finch’s (Justice Smith) and Violet’s walls, but it does not take a careful eye to fall in love with this adaptation. “All The Bright Places” follows two broken teenagers trying desperately to fix each other. The movie begins with Finch talking Violet off the ledge of a bridge, but ultimately ends with her being unable to stop him from dying. These two events are serious and sad, but a surprising amount of the film is light—or perhaps even bright.

Violet starts the film as a recluse. Still recovering from her sister’s death, she refuses to go out with her friends or do group projects or ride in cars. This changes when one of her teachers puts his foot down, insisting she do the assignment. With Finch as her partner, she is forced to start facing the fears she’s been avoiding for so long. Their adventure takes them all across Indiana, starting with the highest point in the entire state. The commemorative rock obviously does not impress Violet, but it makes her laugh, something she hasn’t done since the accident. 

Their adventures together only get more wild and more fun. The middle of the movie is filled with laughter and sunshine, as two teenagers fall in love. Sprinkled in are moments of sadness, moments where Finch disappears without a trace for a couple days, but always returns. Until one day, he doesn’t. Instead of a joyous return, there’s crying and screaming as Violet finds the evidence of Finch’s suicide. Fanning does a beautiful job portraying this grieving girl, who loses a second person that she loves. It took Violet over a year to open up again after losing her sister and her biggest fear of all came true: it happened again. Fanning throws her all into this scene, truly grasping the monumental pain that Violet feels. 

But there is a bright spark among this darkness: Violet does not hide away like she did when her sister died. She is loud and bold and openly misses Finch, but acknowledges the impact he left on her life. His legacy lives on. 

Director Brett Haley did a fantastic job bringing this story to life. The shots and scenes in most of the film are absolutely breathtaking. Never did I think that a corn field could be so stunning, so important or so meaningful. The soundtrack, too, is incredible. DeWitt’s original score is gorgeous and recognizable, the melody popping up during all of the important moments between Violet and Finch. 

The only thing that I wish the film had more of was Niven’s original writing. Her writing style is unique and marvelous; I can still quote the novel despite not having read it for a few years. The writing in the film is good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s missing the depth and tenacity of Niven’s original words. Niven’s novel is heartbreaking and emotionally destroying, but readers are left with the sense that everything will ultimately be OK. The novel inspired readers to attempt to leave the world—and any places in it that they visit—a little better than they found it. I think this film attempts to get that message across through Violet’s presentation at the end of the film that serves as a eulogy to Finch, but it lacks the punch that the novel delivered. 

So maybe lovely is the right word to describe this film. The novel, on the other hand, should be described as “all the colors in one, at full brightness.” 

Menu Title