Amber Appleton (Moana’s Auliʻi Cravalho), the teenager protagonist of the brand new Netflix movie All Together Now, is battling one thing youngsters in mainstream films and TV exhibits typically don’t must face. Unlike the teenagers in different latest Netflix flicks like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Let It Snow, whose lives are picture-perfect aside from the dramatic beats that threaten to maintain them from locking lips with their crushes, Amber is extra apprehensive about poverty than romance. While she is drawn to her good friend Ty (Rhenzy Feliz), her crush is a aspect plot, not her most important motivation. She and her mom Becky (Justina Machado) are homeless — at night time, they sneak into a college bus yard to sleep in one of many buses. Amber tries to scrape collectively sufficient cash to probably hire an residence by means of her jobs at a retirement dwelling, a donut store, and instructing English courses in a church basement. Apart from a too-neat finale, director Brett Haley (Hearts Beat Loud) comes near nailing a narrative that’s hardly ever advised (not to mention advised properly) in such feel-good fare.
Like her late father, who handed away just a few years in the past, Amber has a ardour for music. But her audition to get into Carnegie Mellon, her father’s alma mater, requires an in-person efficiency, and shopping for aircraft tickets would imply dipping into her residence financial savings. The cheeriness and optimism she exhibits her mates is examined by her residing scenario, and her mom’s abusive (however all the time off-screen) boyfriend.
Haley, working from a script he co-wrote with Marc Basch, Matthew Quick, and Ol Parker, based mostly on Quick’s novel Sorta Like a Rockstar, doesn’t belabor Amber’s circumstances, and trusts the viewers to place the items collectively. For occasion, Amber asks Joan (Carol Burnett), a very cranky retirement dwelling member, for entry to her bathe, however the film doesn’t exit of its strategy to clarify that Amber doesn’t in any other case have entry to 1. It helps paint a extra lifelike image of Amber in a manner that isn’t too darkish for youthful viewers, à la Eliza Hittman’s teen drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Midway by means of the film, Amber briefly takes refuge at a wealthy good friend’s trip home. That house is idyllic in a manner that wouldn’t be misplaced in, say, To All the Boys, however the relative realism used to painting Amber’s circumstances earlier within the movie make the holiday home really feel like a special planet.
As the story continues, nonetheless, the stability between realism and feel-good-ism turns into shakier and shakier. The plot twists grow to be laughable, each when it comes to additional misfortune touchdown on Amber’s head, and what it takes to get her out of hassle. The general message that it is best to by no means be afraid to ask for or settle for assist from mates is true, nevertheless it appears like an excuse for Haley and his co-scriptwriters to maintain the ending from being an excessive amount of of a downer. That sanitization sadly undermines the movie’s thoughtfully executed starting, steering it within the route of every other teen film.
Luckily, Cravalho performs each side of that equation properly. She’s simply pretty much as good in scenes the place Amber is peppy and effusive as she is in scenes the place that façade falls away. The excessiveness of her standard cheer is convincing as a canopy for the difficulty she’s so reluctant to share along with her mates. And solely Cravalho’s ability at promoting Amber’s frustration along with her mates’ obliviousness makes the too-good-to-be-true ending even just a little bearable.
That stated, the sheer quantity of drama occurring to and round Amber leaves little room for character improvement for anybody else. Her faculty mates, who’re all theater youngsters to some extent, don’t get a lot to do, and the adults she is aware of (Burnett, primarily repeating Holland Taylor’s function in To All the Boys, and Judy Reyes because the mom of one in all Amber’s mates) are largely there to set just a few handy plot units in movement.
But regardless of the predictable ending, All Together Now distinguishes itself by means of its heroine and the considerate manner it addresses the consequences of economic instability, in addition to a lead efficiency that exhibits off what Cravalho can do in entrance of a digital camera, fairly than simply along with her voice. It’s the uncommon teen film that doesn’t appear to be it’s largely a fantasy, that will get past the massive, synthetic beats of collection like Glee and Riverdale.
All Together Now is streaming on Netflix now.