Directed by: Josephine Decker
Distributed by: Apple TV+
Written by Patrick Hao
A young adult novel like “The Sky is Everywhere” might seem like a strange choice for performance artist/filmmaker Josephine Decker to make her first foray into studio filmmaking. But, the novel’s structure and interiority, ruminating on the balance between mental anguish and creativity, very much falls in line with the themes that Decker explores in her previous two films, “Madeline’s Madeline” and “Shirley.” Unfortunately, “The Sky is Everywhere” fails to coalesce as the film struggles to find the balance between the YA tropes of its source material and sparkling bursts of individuality from her previous two breakthrough films.
The novel is adapted by the original author, Jandy Nelson, and follows Lennie (a charismatic Grace Kaufman), a high school senior whose prodigious talent as a clarinetist is brought to a halt by the sudden death of her older sister, Bailey (Havana Rose Liu). Lennie’s new-age grandmother (Cherry Jones) and uncle (Jason Segal), her surrogate parents after being abandoned by her mother, try to comfort and enlighten her through the passing, but she is mired by the grief of it all. Amongst the grief comes romance – a love triangle at that. First, there is Toby (Pico Alexander), Bailey’s boyfriend, whose relationship to Lennie’s sister brings a sense of comfort to her, despite its scandalous nature. Then there is Joe Fontaine (Jacques Coliman), a manic pixie dream boy of a man whose musical prowess sparks Lennie’s own creative nature.
Any solace from the love triangle or the immense weight of her sister’s death, comes from Lennie’s own mental headspace, as she escapes into fantasy worlds, portrayed through hand puppets and DIY-style cutouts, a hallmark of Decker’s other films. Pops of color and snap zooms intercept the general grayness of tone. These fanciful moments are Decker’s attempt to dramatize visually the ability of people to try to find joy through immense depression.
It is also moments like these and Decker’s individual style that differentiates “The Sky is Everywhere” from other YA straight-to-streamer adaptations like “Star Girl” and “All the Bright Places.” But the simplicity of the storytelling to such complicated emotions makes “The Sky is Everywhere” unfortunately hollow in depth. Surrounding Lennie are archetypes of people, with stick thin characterization. Even stalwart veterans like Segal and Jones could rise above their archetypes, although they do lend a great deal of gravitas.
There is a solid basis for a resonant film. There are palpable moments of tenderness and emotional complexity. But that comes too few and far between the thinly veiled characterization that feels tethered to the genre conventions of YA. Even so, it is disappointing that “The Sky is Everywhere” seems to be under the radar as Decker continues to be an auteur to watch as she gets more and more opportunities.
“The Sky is Everywhere” Trailer