There is an odd, comforting sort of familiarity to coming-of-age films, with their busy high-school corridors filled with jocks and geeks, and those impossibly elaborate house parties. Though we do get a glimpse of those bustling high school classrooms, Netflix’s new original film All the Bright Places instead falls somewhere between The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, at the rather more melancholy end of the genre.

Adapted from Jennifer Niven’s 2015 novel, the story revolves around the dark pasts of its two central characters, Violet (Elle Fanning) and Theodore (Justice Smith). Violet is traumatised by the death of her sister in a car accident, while Theodore is scarred by the memory of his abusive father, leading him to often disappear without warning for several days at a time.

As is easily figured out based on the poster and the novel’s “Young Adult” tag, the two soon realise they may be able to help one another, and gradually grow closer together. The issues with the film begin to show as their relationship develops, with sequence after sequence playing out in the all-too-familiar formula of emotional outburst, big make-up, dramatic kiss.

Thankfully, the film is largely rescued by the performances of Fanning and Smith, who have a charming and surprisingly affecting chemistry. They manage to elevate a lukewarm script and give the traumatic undertones of the story a powerful human edge, with Fanning in particular proving once again that she is a top-tier talent.

Ultimately, while director Brett Haley does little to innovate on the many coming-of-age cliches, there is an undeniable warmth and tenderness to Fanning and Smith’s performances that makes this a worthy, if not particularly memorable, addition to a thriving sub-genre.



CAST: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson

DIRECTOR: Brett Haley

WRITERS: Jennifer Niven, Liz Hannah

SYNOPSIS: Two teenagers, both struggling with a troubled past, learn to appreciate life together and gradually develop a close relationship.