It is a masterstroke on the part of “Everything Everything” director Stella Meghie that in adapting Nicola Yoon’s novel, she makes it feel like a lucid dream. Working from a script by J. Miles Goodloe, she knows she has little physical space to operate with in telling the story of Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who we’re told suffers from severe combined immunodeficiencies which prevents her from ever leaving the house. Yet Maddy’s imagination allows her a bigger life than those laboring outside, whether it is her mother Pauline (Anika Noni Rose) who lives with the crushing feeling she could lose her daughter at any minute or her new neighbor Olly (Nick Robinson), who lives with an abusive father that doesn’t let him or his mother or sister look far beyond the next day.
So stuck in her room where the colors are vivid in their brightness but simultaneously hazy in their focus, Maddy envisions when she might finally be able to walk on the beach or perhaps just meet Olly face-to-face, with his attempts at wooing her after recently moving in next door limited to placing bundt cakes on his window to signal affection. Her mind is in perpetual motion, something evident from the flow with which scenes in “Everything Everything” segue into one another, not with hard cuts but transitions that blur the line between reality and illusions, and Meghie knows that to be in Maddie’s company is more than enough to be entertained, riding the lightning of Sternberg’s radiant performance to drive the film forward.
With a style game as strong as Nancy Meyers’ Architectural Digest cover-ready productions, thanks to a team of collaborators including production designer Charisse Cardenas and costume designer Avery Plewes that really make Maddy’s self-designed world pop, it almost feels like a shame when the bubble actually is burst as Maddy risks going outside, realizing she can’t take another day indoors. However, the sensory overload that comes with her education in the outside world is a true joy to behold. She also has a swoon-worthy suitor in Olly, played with a sly, smoldering charm by Robinson that gives such shameless but hopelessly romantic lines as “I knew I loved you before I met you” at least some credibility.
The inherent trouble with a life-affirming movie like “Everything Everything” is the notion that you have to spend some time indoors to experience it, yet in the hands of Meghie, this isn’t an issue in creating something so truly transporting. Coming after her witty, sharp-elbowed debut “Jean of the Joneses,” the film feels like a slight departure for the director to create something so earnest emotionally, but in offering up no apologies for wearing its heart on its sleeve, Meghie not only shows range, but garners the kind of deep satisfaction that came from Yoon’s original text, being as pure of heart as its lead character. And while Maddy may actually be experiencing many things for the first time, “Everything Everything” will make it seem like everything is new again, even for the most world-weary.