Violet and Finch meet atop a bridge. He is running across it, she is teetering on its ledge. He offers her a hand, and she takes it.
It’s a powerful and awful way to start a relationship, saving someone’s life. Violet (Elle Fanning) goes to Finch’s school. She is struggling with her sister’s death, a car accident Violet was in the passenger seat for. Finch (Justice Smith) sort of takes her under his wing, coaxing her out of her comfort zone under the guise of a school assignment. They travel to the wondrous places of Indiana, which will kill any thoughts of tourism you may have been harbouring because the wonders are underwhelming at best but Finch presents them with whimsy and charm, and how can Violet resist? But for all his saviour posturing with Violet, Finch has some pretty deep emotional scars of his own.
Despite its title, All The Bright Places can go to some very dark places. The leads are meant to be 17 but the story gives their characters some pretty heavy burdens and some serious sophistication. Fanning and Smith have great chemistry and give grounded performances, saving the film for what might have been maudlin or overwrought. Still, with Violet and Finch confronting grief, abandonment, and struggles with mental health, All The Bright Places is quite weighty for a teenage romance. I’m not sure the film quite handles itself correctly all the time; at times it feels a little superficial and easy. But on the whole I found it quite enjoyable. It’s based on a YA novel by Jennifer Niven and it feels like it. Which is not a criticism, actually, and it does deviate quite a bit from the book, it’s just that it wants to impart some wisdom, it wants to make some profound discoveries, and it doesn’t mind being rather obvious about it, like a parent or a guidance counselor might. Like, if you wanted to extrapolate that you should become your own bright place, the film will nod at you encouragingly while quietly nudging a box of tissues in your direction. Take the box.
After 17 hours of trailers, the movie started playing. I’d of course forgotten what I was here to see. Ah yes, Detective Whatever. It occurred to me suddenly that it was possible that total ignorance was not the best state in which to be watching this movie. Should I have take some crash course? Too late now. But there’s the naked truth: I don’t know what a Pokemon is or what it does or how it works or if it’s the name of the little guys or just the name of a show. I wasn’t even entirely sure that it was a show. I remembered a very popular app from a few years ago that had otherwise sane grown adults running around cities chasing after imaginary conquests, and that there’d been something back when I was a kid – cards, maybe? A show? Pogs? Definitely something. Which is why this movie is not called Detective Jay or Good Memory Jay or Jay Gives A Shit.
What I’ve surmised is: Pokemon are a kind of cute little…animal? With powers? And Pikachu is a type of Pokemon with a specific set of powers, including a lightning bolt tail. The human component of this movie is a young man called Tim (Justice Smith) who has just learned that his father is dead. His father lived in the big city where he worked as a detective. Tim was raised in a small town, by his grandma. He hadn’t seen his father in years. When he lets himself into his dead dad’s apartment he learns two things: 1. His father was working a very big case when he died – and he possibly died in its pursuit, and 2. His father had a partner, and that partner is not dead as previously believed, but alive, and also happens to be a Pokemon named Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that can be understood by Tim even though this is apparently unheard of. Oh and a third thing: his father never stopped loving him, guys!
But anyways. Pikachu has suffered amnesia and can’t really help solve the case, but he’s game to give it a go from scratch, which for some reason Tim is eager to do even though he’s an insurance adjuster, not a cop. It involves a purple gas that renders normally docile Pokemon into rabid attackers. Don’t ask me to make sense of this. The thing is, if you’re a Pokemon fan, or even just know the slightest thing about them, then this movie likely has more appeal to you than it does to me. But for me, this movie was really a buddy cop movie, just don’t ask me which one is the Ice Cube. But since I don’t know the pre-established rules of this universe, I don’t get the oddball pairing, I don’t get the humour, if in fact there is any. Ryan Reynolds lends quite a bit of charisma through his voice, but for some reason it keeps reminding me of Deadpool, which is probably the exact opposite of what this cute little pika pika persona is supposed to project. Although he is a hard-boiled cop. In a deerstalker cap. I don’t know, man.
But what I do know is this: the kids in the audience didn’t love it. And before the movie, I thought, dear sweet baby cheesus, we’re in for a ride. Because the pre-movie commercials were KILLING IT with this kid-packed audience. Telus had a commercial where a flamingo was dancing to She’s A Maniac, and I don’t think that Jerry Seinfeld in his entire career racked up half as many laughs as that flamingo did in a 30 second spot. There was a trailer for Abominable that was a laugh riot. So was Secret Life of Pets 2. This was a disturbingly easy audience to pander to. Sean missed a lot of this because he was patiently waiting in the drinks line to quench my ruinous thirst, and I felt the need to warn him when he got back of what was to come. But it never did. There must have been some laughs of course, and it’s possible my brain was so overheated trying to to unravel story lines I missed them. But there wasn’t much. It seemed in my screening that the kids were underwhelmed. I can’t say that I was expecting any kind of whelm myself. I’ve been perplexed and unanticipatory since I first saw the trailer. And I guess that’s what the movie delivered: slight confusion and utter forgettableness.
But you know what? My 6 year old nephew Ben is a real Pokemon connoisseur and he has a different take: