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Review: ‘All the Bright Places,’ with Elle Fanning and Justice Smith, finds romance in darkness

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in the movie "All the Bright Places."
(Walter Thomson / Netflix)

With the follow-up to his charming “Hearts Beat Loud,” director Brett Haley takes us on a far darker journey this time around, but there’s still a lot to love in this moving romantic drama. Though it’s not without humor, “All the Bright Places” takes teens’ emotions seriously and will move romantics of any age — in possibly unexpected ways.

When Theodore Finch (Justice Smith) meets Violet Markey (Elle Fanning), she is still deep in mourning over the death of her sister. He tries to brighten her life as he partners with her on a class project that celebrates the hidden wonders of their state of Indiana, but darkness still looms over them both.

“All the Bright Places” does such a good job with developing Violet and Finch, as well as their romance, that it’s unfortunate that it fails its secondary characters. Other people on screen (including Keegan-Michael Key’s guidance counselor and the teens’ friends played by Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner and Felix Mallard) show up when it’s convenient and disappear when it’s not.

However, this adaptation by Liz Hannah (“The Post”) and Jennifer Niven from Niven’s young adult novel succeeds elsewhere, particularly in its sensitive handling of grief and mental illness, in addition to the more everyday intensities of adolescent feelings. But it isn’t all sadness here; “All the Bright Places” focuses on the value of small joys, even amid larger pain.

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‘All the Bright Places’

Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Available on Netflix


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