Six months after premiering the outstanding coming-of-age tale CODA, Apple TV+ adds another title to the genre with The Sky Is Everywhere, adapted from Jandy Nelson’s 2010 young adult novel.
Like CODA, this offering shares that film’s passion for music and also features a breakthrough performance from a young actress, but this film doesn’t have nearly the same level of impact as a whole.
The Sky Is Everywhere telegraphs its ending quite clearly about 15 minutes into its runtime, which isn’t unremarkable for movies about young romance. But it’s disappointing given that the director is Josephine Decker. Her 2018 breakout Madeline’s Madeline was anything but predictable, while 2020’s Shirley found new notes to play within the crowded biopic genre. Some flights of fancy aside, Decker seems content to tell a conventional story through relatively conventional means.
An opening voiceover from bright high school student Lennie Walker (Grace Kaufman) details an inseparable relationship with her sister, Bailey (Havana Rose Liu), who meets a very untimely end due to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia. Lennie’s support system is hindered by the absence of her mother and father but bolstered by her grandmother, Gram (Cherry Jones), and uncle, Big (Jason Segel), with both of whom she lives.
The presence of Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby (Pico Alexander), around the house complicates things, as Lennie has guiltily held affections for him even when Bailey was alive. At school, charismatic new kid Joe (Jacques Colimon) strikes up a music-centric relationship with Lennie and unknowingly enters a love triangle with Toby.
Most of watching The Sky Is Everywhere is waiting for it to differentiate itself from the pack of recent John Green-inspired YA adaptations, and the film does thankfully have some inspired scenes where Decker’s influence shines through. Almost all of these moments involve music in one way or another, as when Joe is introduced with papier-mâché music notes emanating from the bell of his trumpet, filling the halls with swooning girls. While listening to Bach’s “Air in G” over shared earbuds, Lennie and Joe lie next to each other in the grass as rose-covered interpretive dancers envelop them to symbolize the symbiosis of nature and music. These bits of heightened reality aren’t quite as intentionally diverting as those found in Madeline’s Madeline, but rather enhance the narrative in ways that are thematically relevant and stylistically playful.
But all of these flourishes, even the bad ones, like the recurrence of cartoony “boing” sound cue during lines accompanied by sexual innuendo, feel like a cover-up for a paper-thin script, also penned by Nelson.
It’s a screenplay that contrives obstacles for Lennie to traverse before arriving at a conclusion that will be easy for anyone who has seen a movie before to foresee. The love triangle between the leads is obviously the movie’s focus, but the limited screen time given to Segel and Jones doesn’t yield the emotional punctuations you’d want from actors of that caliber. The platitudes about coping with grief ring especially hollow given how many films these days are about teenagers overcoming trauma. The Fallout, a high school drama that debuted on HBO Max a couple weeks ago, tackles similar themes, but with dialogue that feels much more authentic to the way teens actually speak.
While Kaufman’s performance isn’t quite the revelation that Emilia Jones’ was in CODA, she nevertheless announces herself as a bright young talent to watch in the coming years. Colimon is another newcomer who shines in a role defined by a modest musical magnetism; if “humble swagger” is a thing, this character has it. The two of them give Lennie and Joe such palpable chemistry that Toby largely comes across as a squeaky third wheel with whom Lennie inexplicably keeps torturing herself over instead of just letting go.
Despite its continuation of Decker’s arts-and-crafts store aesthetic, The Sky Is Everywhere is a floral-framed painting that we’ve seen a hundred times before.