“All The Bright Places” Is Another Incredibly Touching Effort From Brett Haley


What a wonderful surprise this film is! Rather under the radar, Netflix has released one of the better movies of 2020 so far with All the Bright Places, a tremendously effective and mature adaptation of the Young Adult novel of the same name. YA titles can often pull their punches and leave you lacking, but director Brett Haley, one of the most underrated storytellers in the business, does not fall into that trap. Along with writer Liz Hannah, he makes this a deeply impactful and moving experience. I’m not sure Netflix knows what they have on their hands here, and that’s a shame. It really deserves a theatrical release, like they afford their prestige flicks. It’s more than good enough for that status.

The movie is a teen drama about a pair struggling with emotional scars. Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) and Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) meet when the latter sees the former standing on a bridge. Violet has lost her sister in a car accident and largely withdrew from the world in the aftermath. Finch is instantly fascinated by her, and when he finds out what she’s been through, he makes it his business to try and re-introduce her to the world. Violet’s parents (Kelli O’Hara and Luke Wilson) are dealing with grief too, though are excited for Finch to try and make their daughter happy. As they take small steps towards a friendship, then a budding romance, Finch’s own issues with depression and emotional instability rear their head. Both of them have found new meaning in life through each other, but is that change enough to heal their wounds? Haley directs a screenplay that Hannah co-wrote with Jennifer Niven, author of the novel. Supporting players include Keegan-Michael Key, Alexandra Shipp, and more. Cinematography is by Rob Givens, while the score comes from frequent Haley collaborator and ace composer Keegan DeWitt.

Brett Haley has made a career out of getting wonderful performances from veteran actors, so it’s very fun to see him fare just as well with a younger cast. While you can’t argue that Elle Fanning and Justice Smith are on the same level here as Blythe Danner in I’ll See You in My Dreams, or especially Sam Elliott in The Hero, they’re still quite good. They both lean in to the darkness within their characters, as well as the light that they can bring out in each other. Their complex portrayals mix with Haley’s soft touch filmmaking to forge something memorable. The script from Liz Hannah and Jennifer Niven is never on the nose, even during moments that could be cliched, while Keegan DeWitt again puts forward beautiful music. Everything here just works.

All the Bright Places stands tall with other YA success stories like The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now, showing that teen centric novels can be adapted into films that still aim for a wide audience. Haley, Hannah, and Niven trust their viewers to accept complicated portrayals of depression and mental illness, without simple answers. Some may be upset that there isn’t a cleaner resolution to the flick, but much like real life, emotional issues are messy, without neat finishes. Above all, the gigantic heart that the movie has on display is what sets it apart and moves you with such ease.

Now streaming on Netflix, All the Bright Places is a tremendous effort from all involved. Brett Haley will likely get the most eyeballs on his work to date with this flick, which hopefully will put him in the conversation for some high profile gigs (this also cements Liz Hannah, after Long Shot and The Post, as a scribe with incredible range). YA aficionados will dig the film, but anyone who appreciates a good drama will find lots to love here. This is one of the best releases of the year so far, and certainly poised to go down as a massively underrated 2020 title. Don’t miss it…


Be sure to check out All the Bright Places, available to stream now on Netflix!

(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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