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‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ Review: An Affectation-Overloaded YA Romance

A teenager struggles with grief over her sister’s death and two budding romances in Josephine Decker’s distractingly stylized drama.

The Sky Is Everywhere
Courtesy of Apple TV Plus

Insistently rejecting the idea that a little bit of a good thing goes a long way, “The Sky Is Everywhere” finds director Josephine Decker indulging in affectation overload in an effort to imbue her adaptation of Jandy Nelson’s young-adult novel with uplifting magic. Whereas individual moments might work on their own, however, the “Madeline’s Madeline” auteur’s latest never provides its romantic tale with room to breathe, so intent is it about operating with maximum whimsicality. Teen audiences may be enticed to give it a try when it debuts in select theaters and on Apple TV Plus on Feb. 11, but what they’ll discover is a film marked by an exhausting lack of restraint.

There isn’t a look-at-me device left unemployed by “The Sky Is Everywhere,” as Decker utilizes dreamy narration, swirling and rotating camerawork, gliding edits, paper mâché-style animation, CGI flights of fancy and an eclectic Caroline Shaw score full of orchestral music, woodwinds, horns and dainty French tunes. Notebook paper constantly flutters in the wind, girls twirl, spin and frolic in an “enchanted” Redwood forest and the world goes apocalyptically dark and brilliantly bright according to the fluctuating state of Lennie (Grace Kaufman), a teenager whose happy-go-lucky existence as the sidekick to older sister Bailey (Havana Rose Liu) is forever shattered when Bailey dies of a heart condition, leaving Lennie alone, bereft and directionless.

Amid an endless array of gliding pans and sudden zooms, crashing noises and cutesy gestures, Lennie grapples with her grief in a quirky woodland home — all cluttered, colorful furniture and bountiful roses bushes — alongside her Gram (Cherry Jones) and her Uncle Big (Jason Segel), the latter of whom smokes dope, tries to resurrect dead insects and generally acts like a supportive hippie sage. It’s an impeccably crafted if overdone fairytale land, and it’s additionally inhabited by Toby (Pico Alexander), Bailey’s mourning boyfriend. Since Lennie spends her days and nights cocooning herself in her late sibling’s clothes, as well as listening ad nauseam to her voicemail recording, it comes as no surprise that she gravitates to hunky Toby, with whom she soon initiates a tentative tryst.

Despite trying to feel close to Bailey through Toby, Lennie has lost the music inside her — literally, given that she can no longer play the clarinet, causing her to relinquish her first-chair position in the school orchestra to nasty rival Rachel (Julia Schlaepfer) and, in doing so, to ditch her plans to apply to Juilliard. Nonetheless, that spark returns courtesy of her budding amour with Joe (Jacques Colimon), a guitar-playing sweetheart who confides that his heart has been broken in the past (due to an ex cheating on him with his best friend), and that he mended it by listening to Bach. Alongside Joe, that tack also works for Lennie, who’s soon floating on air — again, literally — with her new beau as they duet on a pier where people stop to smile and stare at the hovering duo.

An ensuing love triangle, and the crisis it causes, becomes the narrative focus of “The Sky Is Everywhere,” with Lennie attempting both to grapple with the absence of her beloved idol Bailey and to figure out which potential paramour to choose. Kaufman is charming enough to prevent Lennie from becoming completely grating, yet her co-stars aren’t as lucky, due to supporting roles conceived as stick-figure archetypes with a dash of wild attitude. Moreover, Deckard dramatizes Lennie’s predicament with an abundance of flourishes, and the accumulation of preciousness is eventually too much for the film to bear. An unexpected explosion or two of fantasticality could have been evocative, but the director’s habit of staging every instance with bold, italicized, upper-case IMAGINATION suggests that she doesn’t trust her material to stand on its own.

Lennie’s evolution from anguished self-absorption to open-hearted acceptance and euphoric contentment occurs not thanks to her own actions, but instead via a series of increasingly slapdash contrivances, the last of which involves Joe behaving implausibly hostile to her before making an equally abrupt about-face. Although such narrative shortcuts are in keeping with Deckard’s fable-esque handling of the proceedings, the effect is to make everyone here seem like two-dimensional objects in a live-action pop-up book. While the sky may be everywhere, moving human emotion — no matter the gushing histrionics on display — are frustratingly difficult to locate.

‘The Sky Is Everywhere’ Review: An Affectation-Overloaded YA Romance

Reviewed online, Feb. 8, 2022. MPA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 104 MIN.

  • Production: An Apple Original Films release of an A24, Di Novi Pictures, Alice The Who production. Producer: Denise Di Novi, Margaret French Isaac, Josephine Decker, Allison Rose Carter. Executive producers: Jandy Nelson, Joshua Bachove.
  • Crew: Director: Josephine Decker. Screenplay: Jandy Nelson, based on her novel. Camera: Ava Berkofsky. Editor: Laura Zempel. Music: Caroline Shaw.
  • With: Grace Kaufman, Pico Alexander, Jacques Colimon, Julia Schlaepfer, Ji-young Yoo, Havana Rose Liu, Cherry Jones, Jason Segel.