'The Sky is Everywhere' review: YA adaptation is all over the place
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Josephine Decker, the audacious director behind critical hits “Madeline’s Madeline” and “Shirley” takes a step away from unconventional biopics and bizarre thrillers to put her stamp on the much beleaguered (and nearly extinct) young adult genre. Based on Jandy Nelson’s novel, “The Sky is Everywhere” never feels like a good fit for Decker’s talents, blending fantastical elements with a more serious undercurrent of themes, including the stages of grief and finding ways to cope amid newfound uncertainty. Sometimes it can work (see “Bridge to Terabithia”) but here it results in a hurried and disjointed venture that never adds up while it tries juggling an awkward love triangle devoid of passion, romance, or urgency.
Rising star Grace Kaufman plays Lennie who tells us via narration how close she was to her sister Bailey (Havana Rose Liu) an ambitious young actress eager to take the stage as Juliet before suddenly dying of heart problems just like her mother. Naturally, this creates a rift in Lennie’s worldview leading to outbursts with her grandmother (Cherry Jones) and Uncle/father-figure Big (Jason Segel) who, once you find out why he’s around as much as he is, leaves a bitter aftertaste. The idea here is to create an emotional core between the audience and Lennie’s quest to cope with her sister’s passing though Decker’s mismanagement created an internal rift within myself. For starters, Lennie keeps reiterating how lost and broken she is without Bailey though “The Sky is Everywhere” has an odd way of showing it. Even if you weren’t a fan of “Madeline’s Madeline,” at least there was something, no matter how bonkers, to latch onto. The lack of scenes between the sisters, be it flashbacks or some other form of visual medium, is a major crutch.
Instead, the screenplay penned by Nelson, keeps a safe distance between the audience and its characters. Lennie spends most of the movie yelling and screaming at anyone who shows even the slightest bit of interest except for her crush, Joe Fontaine (Jacques Colimon), a dreamy musician who coincidentally loves all the same music she does, and both share an affinity for Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” The story gets complicated when Lennie must choose between two potential suitors: pretty boy Joe and the repressed Toby (Pico Alexander) who, I’m not kidding, dated Bailey before she passed.
Some of this might have landed if we had insight into Lennie and Bailey’s relationship which doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. Considering the entire movie hinges on their fractured past and sisterly bond, it’s hard for me to ponder the upside in “The Sky is Everywhere” when it basically removes the films beating heart. Kaufman is a graceful performer and will have a bright film career (she was fantastic in the Sundance hit “Resurrection”) but she’s stranded in this overblown YA fantasy that substitutes bright colors and eye-rolling needle drops for substance. In the end, “The Sky is Everywhere” ends up all over the place without a coherent bone in its body.
THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is now playing in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+.