You’re gonna need a box of Girl Scout cookies to make it through “All the Bright Places.”
This romance drama, based on Jennifer Niven’s popular young adult novel, requires at least a sleeve of Thin Mints to cope with its central pair of high school students’ tormented lives and burgeoning passions. That’s a compliment. In the grand scheme of YA films, “Bright Places” is top-shelf.
For connoisseurs of the genre, the vibe here falls somewhere between “The Fault in Our Stars” and “After.” Theodore (Justice Smith), a literature-loving slacker who goes by Finch, encounters a stone-faced Violet (Elle Fanning) standing on the ledge of a bridge. He talks her down, and days later asks her to be his partner on a class project: to tour the special sites of Indiana.
The novel was released in 2015, so Pete Buttigieg’s birthplace is not among them.
Violet is reluctant, however. Her sister died months earlier in a car crash, leaving Violet in a state of emotional and social paralysis. She’s also petrified of driving. Finch, a sweet guy who’s an outcast at school for his erratic behavior, becomes determined to wake her from her slumber. The two gradually start to smolder, and, naturally, things get steamy.
On the bright side, nobody here has a terminal illness, which is a weird mainstay of young adult stories lately. But, boy, is director Brett Haley’s movie sad. Many modern teen issues are touched upon — depression, anxiety, eating disorders — and because of the honest performances from Smith and Fanning, you ache for them.
Smith is an especially exciting talent. This is the charming actor’s first major film, after “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” without CGI creatures. He doesn’t need them. Here, Smith manages to be magnetic, sketchy and troubled all at once — adding many layers to what’s in the script. Fanning does, too. The actress’ skill is in holding back obvious feelings like a dam, so her biggest moments, like her moving final speech, really bowl you over.
Excuse me; I need those cookies now.
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