58.2 F

Davis, California

Friday, April 19, 2024

Review: “All the Bright Places”

For once, the movie might be better than the book

When I first read Jennifer Niven’s young adult (YA) novel “All the Bright Places,” I was a 15-year-old sophomore — quite remarkably the worst year of high school for me. I relied solely on YA books to get me through the never-ending days of AP U.S. History and DBQs. 

The novel follows two narrators, Violet and Finch. Readers are given a quick introduction to the characters through their mental illnesses: They’re both standing at the ledge of a bell tower, debating whether to jump off. When Finch notices Violet, he takes it upon himself to talk her down — his first act of saving her. Throughout the novel, we see Finch repeatedly do this to Violet; he tries to make her see the bright side of situations and places. The pair work together on a group project, where they are supposed to see three wondrous sights that Indiana has to offer. It’s meant to make them proud of where they are from, but Finch takes it as an excuse to save Violet. I’m not proclaiming that an individual with a mental illness can or can’t save another. But Niven does, and that’s why I hated the book when I was 15.

 I hated the idea that someone can save another person. Mental illness shouldn’t be depicted as something from which you can be saved or cured. It’s a daily struggle, and the idea of one romantic interest saving another made me hate the book. But I was 15, and once I finished it I never picked it back up. So I recently re-read the book. 

As far as characters go, Violet was beautifully written. She played the part of the heartbroken sister well, but she was so much more than that. She didn’t want to be playing that part. She didn’t want to be in that small Indiana town to be solely known as Violet Markey, the one who survived. She wanted to get out of the town, and awaited the days until graduation.

She found herself feeling guilty for living in those small happy moments that she accidentally gave herself throughout the day. Niven allowed Violet to be a remarkable character who showed fully what it was like to have depression and survivor’s guilt, but the movie lacked in showing every redeemable trait that Violet has in the books. What the movie did manage to accomplish, however, was make Finch likeable. 

I really tried to like Finch. It’s hard to get through a book without liking the main character, which is exactly why I couldn’t read it a second time. I grew tired of the overplayed hurt boy who falls too hard for girls that give him a simple smile. I quickly found myself annoyed by how persistent he is to take Violet out on a date; I’ve never liked that character type. I hate it so much more now, and all it did was make me dislike Finch more. He was a hard pill to swallow, but I suppose that is the entire point of the character. 

Finch doesn’t have very many friends at school, and he’s bullied and named as the school’s freak. But that’s just another thing that I never liked. Even as I re-read the book, I was confronted with multiple school clichés that were overused and should be the last resort for a writer. The second time around reading the book, I didn’t like it any better. I did, however, hate it a little less because of Violet. But it wasn’t just that I didn’t like Finch, it was that I didn’t like the writing. It was boring, and it didn’t pick up until about 100 pages in. I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not, and the storyline was cute, but that’s all it was. For a small part, at least. There wasn’t anything eye-catching. 

I would have never even watched the movie if it weren’t for the actors. I guess it’s true that if you get well-known actors, people will watch anything, because I did. I first saw the trailer for “All the Bright Places” on Instagram and of course when I saw that Elle Fanning and Justin Smith were the main characters, I had to watch it. Not for the plot or the story, but for the actors.

The Netflix movie was better, but it still wasn’t great. I cried, I’ll give it that. But I also cry over 30-second commercials. The thing that surprised me the most was Finch. He was, simply put, more likeable. He wasn’t obnoxious, he wasn’t borderline creepily persistent, and he tried to guide Violet in gaining back her voice — as opposed to the book, where it seemed like Violet found her voice in Finch. 

But the movie didn’t start off how the book did, which was the best part of the original story. To so evidently display the characters’ dwindling chance at life shows what the book is really about: mental illness. But it’s not just about Violet’s depression, it’s about Fitch’s. This is something that the book does well — it shows that both characters are in pain, an unseen pain that they are pretty good at hiding. But the movie doesn’t. The audience can tell there’s something off about Finch, but he’s more quirky than anything else. He doesn’t speak much about his depression. 

The movie was more of a romance movie than a movie about mental illness. The book shows the effect that an illness has on a person and how it can consume their entire being. We don’t see that happen to Finch until mid-way through the movie. It still depicted that all someone with a mental illness needs to do to be okay is find love, and that was a bit of a disappointment. It did, however, have a better way of showing it throughout the movie than the books did. 

The movie does a good job of throwing away the overused character types that are there simply to fill in a plot. The only bad thing about that is it doesn’t entirely show Violet’s past. We don’t get to see who she was before her sister’s death. Despite all of this, I did like the movie more than I liked the book (shocker!). I wouldn’t necessarily watch it again when I have the free time to watch one movie during midterms week, but during this stay-at-home time, I just might recommend my friends watch it. If not for the story line, then for the purely angelic presences who are Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. 

Written By: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here