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Everything, Everything •••1/2

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Nick Robinson, Anika Noni Rose |
Director: Stella Meghie
Screenplay: J. Mills Goodloe,  Nicola Yoon
Drama/Romance, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017



Scott, if you had everything in the world, where would you put it?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

The Everly Brothers once sang, “Every thing, Every where, Every time.” Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to young Maddy (Amandla Stenberg). She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) and hasn’t left the house since she was three years old. That’s when her brother and father were killed in an automobile accident. Now, she’s celebrating her 18th birthday when something special happens: a cute young man named Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door. They strike up a relationship over text messages and begin to fall in love.

Maddy and Olly arrange to meet in person, without Maddy’s mother’s permission. Soon they kiss, and shortly thereafter Maddy runs outside her home to comfort Olly after the boy has a violent run-in with his father. Maddy gets sick briefly but recovers. She realizes that she can’t avoid life and love forever, and so she applies for credit cards and arranges for her and Olly to go on a secret vacation to Hawaii. Maddy gets sick there, too, but soon the truth about her illness is revealed and forever changes her life.

Scott Everything, Everything is based on the popular young-adult novel by the same name. We’ve seen many YA books translated to film with great results that appeal to both young and old. Sadly, EE does not fall into that category. EE is very simplistic in its dealing with disease, loss, isolation, and betrayal. This is more an “Afterschool Special” made for TV than a full cinematic presentation. I was very disappointed.

As a case in point, Maddy seems very happy and well-adjusted in her closed-off world. She doesn’t seem to yearn for the outside life. After having spent her entire life within the same 4 walls, you’d expect that she’d have a pretty big case of cabin fever. And, she’s never had a crush of any sort. With her access to the internet and social media, I would expect her to have at least had an online romance. But she seems perfectly happy to create her scale models of diners and buildings as part of her architectural studies. I found it all a bit too simplistic.

I guess I’ll be the contrarian here. Greg, Everything, Everything won my heart. How could anyone not love these two kids who fall in love and face seemingly impossible odds of their relationship working? The only possible criticism of this movie is that our two romantic leads are just a bit too perfect, too good-looking, and too well-adjusted. Given Maddy’s isolation from the world, you’d think she’d be more socially awkward, and given Nick’s violent father, you’d think he’d have some dark baggage for the audience to see. But even with the implausibility of these hyper-perfect kids, I was drawn into the story and was moved deeply.

True, the film does have a made-for-TV feel, and yes, it’s a simple love story that won’t win any awards for originality. Yet I couldn’t help detect the metaphorical significance of Maddy’s SCID disease. I believe that many people today, Millennials especially, have trouble “connecting” with people due to self-inflicted barriers to intimacy. I suspect that a lot of viewers of this film can relate to feeling separated from others and feeling unable to find love. It’s no coincidence in this movie that the barriers to love are dismantled once they are discovered to originate from the corrupt older generation, a theme we’ve seen in many YA dystopian future movies such as Hunger Games and Divergent.

The two characters represent a romantic duo. But the story is clearly Maddy’s. It’s all about her isolation, her new-found love, and her ultimate ambition to escape the confines of her home. Olly is the catalyst for her journey and in many ways a mentor to her as she reaches out to a world beyond her jail. She starts out naive and ultimately learns a difficult secret. She’s a good hero – but not great. She has no flaws that we can see. She’s beautiful, polite, refined, obedient, and just too perfect. To be relatable, we need heroes to have some flaws.

Good hero stories usually feature heroes who transform in significant ways. In this film Maddy does grow socially and emotionally. She also acquires an important insight about her mother, a painful mental transformation she must undergo. Olly grows in similar ways but we’re not as privy to his transformations.

In our last book, Reel Heroes & Villains, we noted that one thing that separates heroes from villains is that heroes transform but villains don’t. Everything, Everything provides ample evidence of this distinction. The film’s villain, Maddy’s mother, does not see the light and in fact cannot see the light. She needlessly imprisons her daughter and never becomes enlightened about the cruelty of her actions. She remains stuck in an untransformed state.

Everything, Everything is The Boy in the Plastic Bubble for a new generation. It also resembles another film: The Space Between Us. EE is very light fare made for the younger viewers in the audience – especially young girls. It treats Maddy’s situation and illness with a light touch and so is appropriate for that group. I give Everything, Everything 3 out of 5 Reels.

Maddy is a bit too perfect in every way. She undergoes a great transformation from acquiescing to her mother’s every whim, to becoming a full adult and making decisions for herself. The realization at the film’s end – where Maddy learns that her mother made up her illness – is a devastating moment for her and a stark illustration of how fragile trust is. I wish that Maddy were a more realistic character, so I give her just 2 out of 5 Heroes.

There’s not a lot of transformation other than for Maddy in this film. Olly is pretty much who Olly is all throughout. And the other ancillary characters are mere shadows. I can only muster 2 out of 5 transformation Deltas for Maddy’s transformation.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

I’ll acknowledge some of the weakness of this film that you point out, Greg. Yet the bottom line for me is that Everything, Everything moved me at a deep emotional level, despite the flaws we’ve identified. This movie tugs at our heartstrings in telling a timeless tale of unrequited love, and in doing so it evokes strong emotional payoffs. I give the film 4 Reels out of 5.

Our two romantic heroes go on a classic hero’s journey and help each other grow socially, mentally, and emotionally. These heroes possess most if not all of the qualities in the “great eight’ traits of heroes: they are smart, strong, reliable, resilient, charismatic, caring, selfless, and inspiring. I award our heroes 3 Hero rating points out of 5.

As I’ve noted, both our heroes help each other grow and transform in significant ways. Moreover, we sadly see that Maddy’s mother suffers the fate of most villains in good storytelling. She remains stuck and in denial, thus forever untransformed. The lesson is clear here and in all good stories — unless you are willing to grow and change, you risk either painful stagnation or, worse, a harmful regression that poisons hearts and relationships. I award these characters 3 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Keanu ••1/2

Keanu_posterStarring: Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Tiffany Haddish
Director: Peter Atencio
Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens
Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2016


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I think the Matrix has me – did I just see a movie about Keanu Reeves?

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No, Greg, this is a film about a good cat and some bad cats. Let’s re-cat — I mean recap.

We meet Rell Williams (Jordan Peele) who was just dumped by his girlfriend. Just when he was in the depths of despair, he finds a kitten on his doorstep who he immediately names “Keanu.” His best friend and cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key) drops by to console him and is also smitten with the young feline.

It turns out that Keanu belonged to the gang leader of a Mexican drug cartel who was killed by an intimidating pair of killers called the Allentown Boys. Another gang leader named Cheddar (Method Man) abducts Keanu while ransacking Rell’s apartment which is next-door to his drug dealer Hulka (Will Forte). Rell and Clarence pay a visit to Cheddar, who mistakes the men for the Allentown Boys. He’ll only return the cat to them if they perform one dangerous job for him.

Let’s face it, this is not the stuff of great drama. Instead, it’s a platform for two of the hottest comedians in show business right now – Key and Peele. And they bring their particular brand of comedy to the big screen in a ridiculously simple premise – everyone is smitten with the kitten. And it should be no shock as the most watched videos on YouTube.com are videos of kittens.

It’s hilarious to see some of the the hardest core bad guys lay down their fortunes and their lives for the love of Keanu. Our two heroes are about as nerdy as one can get. So it’s only natural that they might wade into dangerous waters to save their feline. But then gang leader “Chedda” latches on to the miniature manx, things get funny. Our two suburban nerds must put on the airs of hard-core gangstas in order to win the trust of the kingpin. This leads to a series of jokes about stereotypes of gang life which I found hilarious.

I found the movie to be not terribly funny, Greg. Do you remember that scene in Airplane when Barbara Billingsley pretends to speak like a tough male African-American? This movie resurrects this old joke and milks it for over 90 minutes. Yes, we know that Rell and Clarence are not bad-asses and that they must act and talk like “gangstas” in order to find the cat. But this movie forgets that the Barbara Billingsley joke worked because we heard it only once. Here it gets old fast. This entire story is a one-joke pony that exposes Keanu’s creatively bereft writing team.

But it also calls out the cliches we see in buddy cop movies. The undercover guys must mix it up with the cold-hard gangstas. A running gag is Clarence’s love of George Michaels and Wham. Clarence is in a tight spot and must bond with the uneducated gangstas. So he convinces them that Michaels is also a hard core gangsta and his “Father Figure” song is about not having a father. The gangstas weep and get George Michaels tattoos. And there’s a fantastic drug-induced reimagining of Michaels’ “Faith”  music video. I was rolling in the aisle (RITA?).

And there is a beautiful girl that Rell falls for. Only to find out she’s a cop and everything that has happened to them was a set up to capture the drug-dealing gangstas. It’s such a typical plot line and Key and Peele hyped it to perfection.

None of this impressed me, Greg. I’m not saying there weren’t a few jokes that worked. The gimmick of ordinary guys having to act tough was fun for a short while. It wore thin for me, as the did the gimmick of the cute kitten eluding danger repeatedly. We know that the kitten will never be harmed because moviegoers would find any harm to a kitten to be unacceptable. So the only issue holding my interest centered on whether Rell and Clarence could pull off their subterfuge. Their adventure is rife with improbable silliness, and really the only thing saving their necks is the comedy genre in which this film operates.

In terms of a hero’s journey, our two buddy heroes do go on the classic journey and help each other transform. The adventure of recovering the cat helps Rell evolve from a person on the brink of suicide to a person with a mission and a reason to live. Clarence’s evolution is a bit more subtle but we do witness him become a stronger person. There’s not much positive mentoring to speak of, unless you count Liam Neeson whose movie our two heroes watch on the eve of their adventure.

Keanu is a fun movie and the debut for Key and Peele. I enjoyed myself for a couple hours. I loved the George Michaels references and the nerds-as-tough-guys schtick. However, as much as it pains me to agree with you, Scott, there really isn’t much more to enjoy here. You either like this sort of thing or you don’t. I did, but I hope the duo’s next outing is a bit more sophisticated. I give Keanu 3 out of 5 Reels for average entertainment value.

There is a nice little buddy story here. There’s growth for both of our heroes. But, as we have seen in other comedies, the hero’s journey plays second fiddle to yucks. I can only give 2 out of 5 Heroes to Rell and Clarence.

And I suffer to agree with you again, Scott. There are no true mentors in this story. Keanu is merely a McGuffin, as Hitchcock would say. And while the fearless feline draws our heroes into the world of gangsta rap, he surely did not coach them in the ways of the underworld. Alas, Rell and Clarence seem to draw upon film depictions of stereotypical drug dealers to fuel their knowledge of their special world. I can only muster 1 out of 5 Mentors for this film.

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Keanu is a mildly funny movie about two decent, goofy guys who find themselves way in over their heads among criminal mobsters. The story is built around two gimmicks that grow old quickly. One plot device requires our two squeaky clean heroes to act like gangstas, and the other device relies on a cute viral-on-youtube kitten to string along our heroes. This movie isn’t terrible but I won’t be giving it a second look. I award it 2 Reels out of 5.

Our two protagonists are buddy heroes who help each other accomplish the mission and grow as individuals. There is too much goofiness in this comedy for the hero’s journey to be taken too seriously, and so I can only award 2 Heroes out of 5 to these two guys. Because the hero’s journey is taken lightly by the filmmakers, there isn’t much mentoring so speak of. As such a Mentor rating of 1 out of 5 seems right to me, too, Greg.

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Reel Heroes & Villains



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What makes a good movie hero? Which kinds of villains are the best — or the worst?

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  • How the hero’s journey differs from the villain’s journey
  • 52 reviews of movie heroes and villains in 2014

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