Adapted from the novel by Jennifer E. Smith, director Michael Lewen’s “Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between” captures adolescent interactions and intelligence through an empathetic lens. But even though this Netflix original doesn’t condescend to its targeted teen audience, it fails to surmount basic issues dealing with narrative credulity and the outcome’s predictability.
The story centers on two modern-minded teens who enter a 10-month-long dating compact as an obligatory starter romance, agreeing to break up the night before leaving for college. But would real teens remotely act this way? Or are the adult creators transposing their own ideas onto teen turf?
Cautious high school senior Clare (Talia Ryder) thinks she’s risk-averse. All the moving around when she was young, due to her parents’ divorce, made her plunge head first into her textbooks. Determined not to be distracted by boys or friendships, she concentrated instead on securing a bright future at a good college.
But Clare’s world shifts when she’s dragged by her encouraging bestie Stella (Ayo Edebiri) to her first Halloween house party, meeting Aidan (Jordan Fisher) in the process. The pair share an instant connection, trading witty banter, flirting through crowds of classmates and spending the evening chatting at a nearby playground — a symbol of leaving childish things behind.
Not so fast though. Before parting, Clare naively suggests a risky deal to date for the remainder of the school year, having a clean break-up the night before leaving for college. Aidan agrees, ignoring any hints of complications that could arise come their final date.
A whirlwind courtship ensues, shown in a quick-paced montage with big teal title cards announcing each passing month over the parade of milestones in the couple’s blooming romance, from their first date to their first “I love yous.” Then, as quickly as it began, their relationship comes to the agreed-upon close, with their friends and family rightfully questioning their unwise and alterable decision to split.
However, for as much as Clare and Aidan let personal fears guide their union to its intended ending, the duo simultaneously struggle with letting the love of their (young) lives go, confronting their individual flaws and foibles in order to evolve and grow. Yet it’s the pair’s retracing of their past in their final hours together that will ultimately reshape their future.
It’s fairly obvious within minutes of clicking play that there’ll be a major hitch in Clare and Aidan’s plan, whether those watching are hopeless romantics or total cynics. Love is an unstoppable, uncontrollable force, and anyone at any age knows this, even if the protagonists do not. The material doesn’t do much to subvert our expectations, nor surprise us when the inevitable twists occur. Though screenwriters Amy Reed and Ben York Jones don’t give in to any incongruous, romcom-esque shenanigans, they also don’t make the main characters’ reasoning sound viable. Teen viewers caught in between adolescent yearnings and their impending adulthood can probably relate to these characters’ conundrums, but the setup seems suspicious as audiences likely know better than these two inexperienced souls.
That said, the filmmakers spotlight their strengths in other areas of Smith’s source material. LBGT representation is handled tenderly and given a complete and rather sweet arc with Stella’s journey, as she worries if her crush Tess (Djouliet Amara) would reciprocate those same feelings. Steve (Nico Hiraga), Aidan’s slacker-adjacent best friend, isn’t used solely as comedic relief, but also as a catalyst to help Aidan and Clare come to obvious revelations.
Lewen, editor Joe Landauer and cinematographer Bryce Fortner find a well-paced rhythm and tonally appealing aesthetic, evoking a sense of buoyancy and grounded realism at the same time. Music supervisors Lindsay Wolfington and Laura Webb’s soundtrack selections also help float emotions without being intrusive, while complementing Mike Tuccillo’s score.
The other part of the magic created comes courtesy of the leads’ pitch-perfect performances. They share a crackling chemistry from start to finish. Ryder is luminous, dexterously guiding us through some of the trickier, tangled aspects with grace, sensitivity and vibrancy. Fisher is suave, delivering nuanced work during subtle, vulnerable moments (a small handful to ramp up the film’s swoon-worthy nature). Lending his voice to a re-arranged cover of The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout,” as well as original song “Everything I Ever Wanted” at the close, adds to his charm.
Teens aren’t stupid, and expecting them to accept two college-bound protagonists as naive as these is disappointing, especially given the authenticity being attempted. By having these lovebirds ironically make the very mistakes they were actively trying to avoid, the conflict feels forced and obtuse. And that might make the audience want to say goodbye to this quicker than the already-short run time allows.