Set in a nondescript town of Indiana (USA), author Jennifer Niven’s young adult book All the Bright Places on teenage love and depression has been adapted for the screen in a rather colourless and emotionless format by Netflix. Violet Markey (Elle Fanning) and Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) are two teenagers battling depression due to their own unique set of circumstances. They go to the same school but have different set of friends. Their trauma helps them bond but it also makes them blind to each other’s suffering. Both of them are so haunted by their individual sadness that despite being happy together, in the end they are unable to save each other.
The adults too are remarkably disconnected from their children’s depression and continue with their jobs and lives. Violet’s parents who are grieving along with her for their elder daughter’s death make no effort to bond or keep Violet occupied as she wallows in pain. Theodore’s mother is never present and his adult working sister never suspects her brother’s bouts of sadness. The book allowed for imagination to run its own course but the onscreen adaptation feeds us the visuals, thereby leaving the story bereft of the complications of the adolescent mind.
The depression, the bullying at school, the anxiety faced by teenagers and grief on the loss of a loved one don’t come across in any of the scenes. There is only one scene where Theodore on being called a ‘freak’ lashes out at his aggressor. Why exactly he is called a ‘freak’ however remains unclear and is never established. While Violet acts impassive and is generally disinterested (because of her grief), the sadness that engulfs her comes across as snobbery rather than a searing pain that she is carrying around. Theodore’s dark side hiding behind his happy-go-lucky nature never really surfaces.
When he opens up to Violet about his past, it remains unclear about what triggers his trauma. He is mostly seen making wisecracks. But how he switches from good to bad is never captured and thus his disappearances feel like a cliché that were added simply to show viewers that his character is depressed. The complexities of the human mind when dealing with trauma, the helplessness, the overwhelming nature of clinical sadness and simply the intensity of emotions are missing here but can be found in various pages of the book—which at this point we’d highly recommend instead of its lacklustre adaptation. Somehow, All the Bright Places manages to induce dullness to teenage romance. Even the popular trope of song references have no recall value in the end. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars adaptation, which had similar elements of YA romance and death, turned to be a roaring success simply perhaps of the deftness with which the subject was handled.