Aaron Royce, Contributing Writer
The opening scene of “All The Bright Places” begins with Theodore Finch, played by Justice Smith, running through his neighborhood. He comes across Violet Markey, played by Elle Fanning, standing on the ledge of a bridge she might jump from.
Finch interrupts her, asking what she’s doing. He joins her on the ledge, offers her his hand, and she presumably comes down. This scene preemptively shows that mental health and suicide are key to the protagonists and the plot.
“All the Bright Places” is a young adult romance novel that’s been lauded for its realistic depictions of teen mental health. The book has been adapted into a Netflix film, however, which falls flat on numerous accounts.
Finch and Violet are on opposite sides of the high-school food chain. Finch is an outsider who people nickname a freak for his behavioral outbursts, and Violet is a seemingly popular girl whose sister, Eleanor, died in a car accident months prior.
After they become class project partners and explore the landmarks of their Indiana town, they begin to fall in love, help each other deal with their internal battles and discover positive parts of their lives such as their environments, family and favorite things to uplift themselves.
By omitting details that made the original story emotional, realistic and compelling, the film loses its rawness and becomes bland. Context is left for viewers to assume, which makes the movie hard to understand — and those watching it are left to guess the film’s plot points with little guidance.
Finch and Violet don’t interact again until he makes an Instagram post about their encounter, asking her to be his partner for the class project. Social media wasn’t part of this moment in the book.
The opening scene is a sharply different take on the book’s opening scene, where Finch and Violet are both contemplating suicide by jumping from their school’s clock tower.
The novel showed both main characters as complicated individuals with their own sets of clear struggles. It emphasized the pain of fighting silent battles, the importance of treating people with compassion and the disorientation from emotions that feel uncontrollable.
In the film, the audience learns that Violet has been distant from her family and friends since Eleanor’s death. In the book, this affected her social life as head cheerleader. Any of Violet’s hobbies, aside from an old blog she shared with Eleanor, aren’t mentioned in the film.
“’All the Bright Places’ is a young adult romance novel that’s been lauded for its realistic depictions of teen mental health. The book has been adapted into a Netflix film, however, which falls flat on numerous accounts.” — Aaron Royce
As our culture has grown more open in discussing mental health, it appears this film is quite timely. Although it is a teen romance, Violet and Finch’s struggles and disorders aren’t romanticized, but shown as context for their behaviors. This is realistically appropriate by not making them the character’s only features, but just parts of their lives that they try to help each other work through.
However, the stark lack of details leaves viewers uninformed about what Violet and Finch’s specific struggles are.
Violet is presumed to have depression and suicidal thoughts, while Finch’s bipolar disorder, which was clearly identified in the book, isn’t noted at all.
In the novel, Finch’s disorder was undiagnosed but shown through mood swings and his attendance of a support group for having suicidal thoughts. In the movie, his mood fluctuations could indicate to the audience that there’s something more to him, but ultimately nothing is clearly disclosed.
Overall, “All the Bright Places” doesn’t adhere to the specific aspects of the original book outside of general themes. By not fully engaging with the entire text, the movie doesn’t have the same depth and understanding. Even the film’s ending is left for viewers to assume, making it less devastating from lack of context and details depicted in the book.
From this sharp lack of faithfulness to the original novel alone, there isn’t much to make “All the Bright Places” worth watching — even if you’re just killing time with a Netflix binge.