Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.

All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

We’re somewhat back on track with the Goodreads challenge now. It shows that I’m a book ahead but then I can’t seem to fix the problem that it has the same book twice. Plus, I read a lot of short stories and comics so I’m not sure those really count as one book. Its slightly cheating. Although, with my TBR list somewhat mapped out, I feel like I’m most likely to go over at the current moment. Who knows, right? I could go into one of those lack of motivation phases and just not read for a month. Up next is a book review of All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. As I read this one, I couldn’t help but compare it to Thirteen Reasons Why, mostly because it also features youth and mental illness and how the two authors took a different angle and built different characters essentially.

Let’s check it out!

All the Bright Places
by: Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.  – Goodreads

Before I start the actual review, I’d like to start with this bit. I’m on record to not have enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why. You can check out the review HERE.  As I think back to it frequently, its mostly because of Hannah Baker and how I find her a manipulative character in general. I haven’t seen the series and I can’t comment on it if that is what you are basing any opinions on. I always get a little worried when I approach books about mental illness because its a very touchy subject and a lot of people who has these illnesses will become very defensive about it. So I’m going to say that while I didn’t enjoy Thirteen Reasons Why, I appreciate what it was trying to do and the issues it was trying to highlight. If the character resounded more to you, that’s great. I’m happy to hear that it did because it means that someone related to it and it did its job. Now we’re aren’t here to talk about Thirteen Reasons Why but All the Bright Places and with that said, I’d like to highlight why I think this book works better at highlighting youths and mental illness, while trying to bring forth the same issues.

All the Bright Places is about two young ones who meet on the sixth story roof of their school and for their own reasons, they both end up getting off. Who saves the other is unknown at that moment and its with this starting point that this unlikely friendship begins. First off, that descriptions says way too much, making the mystery of the story vanish because its so obvious what will happen. I really dislike stories that make descriptions who say too much. However, All the Bright Places is a page-turner. There is no doubt about it. While primarily their problems and their inner struggles make them intriguing to read, Violet and Theodore are compelling because of that. In many ways, both are learning to live in the present and remember that there is more to life than running away from the past or finding ways to escape the present. Not all people who suffer some form of mental illness can’t be saved, but sometimes, it takes someone with a careful eye to notice these little details and that is exactly what this story highlights, how a lot of people don’t know how to differentiate when someone needs help. They may not reach out or they may not be noticed and sometimes people will just label them with an excuse that describes who they are in an awkward or weird way. And sometimes, mental illness does become the world of the person who lives with it whether they like it or not. I’m speaking of this last part through personal experience of people I know and things that has happened to them and how various parts of how Theodore and Finch’s dialogue resounded to me.

These types of books are very personal experiences in some ways. However, All the Bright Places is very cleverly executed. It creates two characters and uses their search for the natural wonders around them to invoke the sense of discovery and how there is more to see and worth living for regardless of how big or small. It also emphasizes how while part of the fight is with support from others, in many ways, their inner struggles had to be overcame by themselves and with some good professional help. I’m not sure if this is trying to have a social statement about how schools don’t have a good enough psychiatric help or that there are lacking of resources and knowledge of these issues in teenagers. It might even be a statement about how parents (or family in general) sometimes don’t pay as much attention as they should to their children as they deal with their own issues. There might not even be a statement but just that sometimes, a little notice of the details of the people you see day in and out, whether its a friend or family could go a long way. All the Bright Places depicts it well that certain symptoms can be nudged off as a character trait, awkward or odd or just how that person is because its a familiar thing, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something that can alarm others to give a helpful nudge before its too late.

I’ve went off a tangent now. Overall, All the Bright Places is a great story that does very well in showing how mental illnesses can be misunderstood easily. It serves as a reminder to notice the ones we love more. It also serves to say that sometimes, those with mental illness might not even acknowledge that they have it and don’t know when to seek help and sometimes, there is nothing you can to stop their actions. Whatever it is that you relate to in this story or pick up, its a rather personal experience. In a more objective way, All the Bright Places brings out two characters that are very different and dealing with different issues, living in different realities and create a story where they search for wonders as they both search for the will to keep living and moving forward each day. Who says whom in the beginning, what is the reality of the situation, what are these individuals thinking of, what inner struggles are they truly dealing with, who are they and which part of their personality is because of their mental illnesses; these are all questions that it poses and will be swimming through your mind as you read it. Sometimes, it’ll make you smile a little as the characters find happiness and contentment in what they do and sometimes, you might feel a tug in your heartstrings as they go through their inner battles. Whatever it is, All the Bright Places is a well-executed and well-written young adult novel with compelling characters.

**As an after note, I have read some of the Goodreads reviews on why some people have changed their mind and rated this poorly, which made me think about the characterization of not only Violet and Theodore but also the people around them, I’d like to say that with my experiences, I feel like this book strikes a chord with me and does portray and highlight the mental illness issue very well in these characters. **