All the Bright Places (2020)
Well, this film almost had a very different ending. And by ending, I mean beginning. I always thought that it was common sense, not to loudly ask, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" to someone standing on the edge of a bridge...but I mean...this time the protagonist didn't fall to their death, so it's probably fine, right?
All The Bright Places is about two high school seniors, Violet (Elle Fanning) and Theodore/Finch (Justice Smith), who meet perchance one evening on the aforementioned bridge, and when Finch fails at manslaughter, a beautiful relationship is born.
Violet is grieving the recent death of her older sister. She is struggling to move on with her life. To make matters more painful (as is what ordinarily happens in films about death), all of Violet's friends from before her loss, are trying to persuade her to party and are saying things like, "How much longer are you gonna act like this? It's been months". In contrast, Finch looks at her pain with a fresh set of eyes and understanding. To be fair to Violet's friends though, Violet isn't ready to talk, she isn't open to talking and it's probably hardest to talk to people who knew her before this grief. They get frustrated with her, and let nasty things slip by accident, which of course makes her less willing to expose her deepest darkest thoughts and feelings to them, and the cycle continues. Finch's approach is different though, and far more empathetic. He posts an original acoustic song about the bridge encounter on his public Instagram page. With lyrics like, "I met you, standing on a ledge," etc. available for anyone online to listen to, and a direct tag to Violet's page, it's no wonder that she is forced to speak to him.
And the speaking continues, because the Geography teacher assigns them a task where they have to pair up and explore Indiana together. This exploration will culminate in a speech on the things that they learn (and you know that that's how the film is definitely going to finish). Before I continue any further, I just want to inquire as to whether or not this is a legitimate teacher? Are tasks in America like this? Surely encouraging students to travel around the state of Indiana, independently, poses some risks. Was a risk assessment completed? I'm concerned.
Anyway, of course Violet and Finch pair up, and go on many adventures, and learn things, and there are montages and the sun catches in their hair as they kiss...you get the picture...
I will say this, the film is pretty. They take advantage of the beauty of nature and use it to create some really stunning moments. There's one particular scene where Violet and Finch stand on the 'highest point' in Indiana. In their words it's totally "lame". And it is. But it's also totally beautiful...despite the fact that they're only half a metre off the ground.
Of course, it's in all of these bright and beautiful places that Violet begins to open up. And the more she opens up, the bigger her smiles become. There seems to be an entire montage dedicated to Violet's happiness. It's her and Finch, in a variety of different places, and the further we delve into the montage, the wider and wider her smile becomes. The problem is, it's established at the very beginning of the film, that Finch has some problems of his own to deal with. Even though Violet is finding all of this exploration to be therapeutic and is continually opening up to Finch, the communication and recovery isn't reciprocated.
Thank goodness that this film is so pretty, because the issues that it confronts head on, are very dark. Suicide. Depression. Bipolar. Grief. Bullying. Domestic violence. Bulimia. Fears. I'm sure that there's more. The idea of exploring mental health through film, isn't a new one. We've seen it done time and again in recent years, with television programs like 13 Reasons Why (2017-2020), essentially existing for this very reason. Mental illness isn't a bad topic to explore. It's good to encourage open conversations about it and to communicate stories in which people recover and stories in which they don't. However, this film (besides its montages) does not offer very many moments of relief from the darkness. Apart from the beautiful backdrops, most of the rest of the film is fairly ugly. That's okay. It's listed as a drama. However, it was a lot of drama. A lot. I didn't need a happy ending. But I certainly wanted a break in the tension at various points throughout.
As has already been implied, the film concludes with the Geography presentation regarding all of the places in Indiana that students visited. I always find it hilarious in films, when students deliver presentations. Why are there such long dramatic pauses? Students were never so dramatic when I was in high school. Furthermore, they certainly hadn't mastered the fine art of a pregnant pause. So how come high schoolers in films are so damned good at oration? Whatever the reason, it's throughout this speech that Violet delivers the film's chief messages, such as, "You can be the bright place with infinite capabilities," and "Even the ugliest of places can be beautiful if you take the time to look". (What exactly is she being marked on, anyway? Is this really Geography?) It's nice. The messages are important. But it literally takes 97 minutes of heartbreak, loss and frustration before we receive them.
I'm not sure it's worth it. The performances are great. There's no denying that. The messages in the end are worthy of screen time. The journey to get those messages is painful though. I suppose that's the purpose, but I'm certain that there are other ways to explore mental health and loss, than to intensely expose your audience to it. Maybe I'm wrong...I don't know. If you want to make up your own mind, you can catch this film on THE STREAMING SERVICE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED.