Mildly huge spoilers for “Everything, Everything” to follow — but I only ruin the last half-hour. Promise.
Right after “The Fault in Our Stars” came out, I thought I was done subjecting myself to sad teen romance movies adapted from young adult novels that star hot people with debilitating diseases. But, alas, here I am. And here you are.
Directed by Stella Meghie (“Jean of the Joneses”), “Everything, Everything” stars Amandla Stenberg (“As You Are”) as Maddy Whittier, an 18-year-old living with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID). Her mom, Pauline (Anika Noni Rose, “Throne of Elves”), is a doctor and raises Maddy in their house, only allowing her nurse (Ana de la Reguera, “Macho”) and a few others to come inside. Having lost her husband and son in a car accident, Pauline’s life is driven by keeping Maddy healthy.
Endearing, pseudo-bad-boy Olly Bright (Nick Robinson, “The 5th Wave”) moves in next door, and he and Maddy have a Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”-esque relationship for a good 30 minutes of the film. It’s uncomfortable and deeply, painfully cringe-y at times, but it’s cute. It’s really cute. Stenberg and Robinson are so young, and their youth is what makes them perfect for these roles. They’re innocent and awkward, and they capture what it feels like to have a crush: the hope that your lameness could be charming, the panic in texting someone so much that you have no idea how to act around them in-person, the way your heart feels like it’s beating loud enough for your mother to hear.
In love, Maddy leaves a note for her mom saying that she’s leaving. She jets off to Hawaii with Olly, buying the tickets with a credit card she secretly signed up for. (Side note: I definitely don’t think Maddy understands how a credit card works. Who does she think is paying for this Hawaii trip? The internet?) She’s worried about dying, but she’s more worried about dying without having done anything.
Using SCID is tricky. Maddy being forced to spend her life indoors isn’t a super accurate representation of a treatment for SCID, as it is a treatable disease. It requires a bone marrow transplant, and it’s not always successful, but it is curable. That said, I don’t think the movie’s main focus was ever on Maddy’s condition. It was more on love. That kind of love. The kind that makes you cliff-dive and smile with your gums and splash around the Pacific in a mustard one-piece. Maddy’s decision to leave, not despite the fact that she might die, but because of it, was the point of the movie. She writes upon meeting Olly, “Love is everything. Everything.”
Here’s my beef: Cut short by her getting sick, the Hawaii trip leads to a very complicated reveal that Maddy doesn’t actually have SCID. When she was a baby and constantly fell ill, her mom convinced herself and everyone else that it was SCID because she couldn’t bear losing her.
No! I do not accept this! I didn’t want Maddy to die, but this ending completely undermined the entire plotline. She should have died. She was sick, and she risked all of it to live fully, freely, finally and she should have died at the end. Turning her SCID into Munchausen by Proxy (when a child’s primary caretaker amplifies or fabricates an illness or symptoms in that child) was a copout. It avoided the big issue, instead skirting its way around what made this movie so heartbreaking.
The first hour of Maddy’s story was absurd, but it was an absurdity I could get on board with. Her fantastic daydream of being a lone astronaut, floating endlessly through darkness, was charming. Her imagined in-person interactions with Olly’s texts were loveable. But this ending — this was too much. Choosing to give Maddy SCID and promptly taking it away once it got in the way of her great love undercut the main message of love conquering all fears, transcending all complications, being worth it.
SCID or no SCID, “Everything, Everything,” was a sweet teen-romance story. It was sugary and anxious, and it captured what young love is: thrilling, terrifying, everything (everything).