“All the Bright Places” on Netflix is a Misrepresentation of Jennifer Niven’s Novel


Gracie Warda

“All the Bright Places” was adapted into a movie earlier this year.

Gracie Warda, Writer

If you are a long-time fan of Jennifer Niven’s “All the Bright Places,” you were probably just as excited as I was to learn it was made into a Netflix movie. However, I’m sorry to say the on-screen adaptation was a disappointment, and generally a sad interpretation of the novel. 

The story line is simple: a couple of broken teenagers named Finch and Violet fall in love and work towards healing each other. Unfortunately, the movie missed a number of key factors that made this story different from others, which means the on-screen adaptation didn’t look much different than any other cheesy teen romance drama. 

First, the number of missed symbols and literary devices in the movie felt simply disrespectful to the novel. Some of the most valuable aspects Niven takes advantage of are attention to detail, symbolism, foreshadowing and allusions that turned the story into a work of literature. 

The movie, however, forgot many of these entirely or grazed over them, rendering them meaningless. In the novel, Finch paints his entire room blue, including the ceiling, which symbolizes his ongoing struggle with depression. However, Director Brett Haley’s take left Finch merely splattering blue paint on one of his walls, and the supposed “motif” is not mentioned again. 

This leads to another downfall of the movie: poor character development. While Lead Actress Elle Fanning and Actor Justice Smith are extremely talented, the audience only sees their true abilities in a couple of scenes because of the uncomfortable script they’re given. It seems that all of Violet and Finch’s interactions are forced, instead of naturally witty like they are in the book. The integration of Virginia Woolf quotes was seamless in the book, but felt over-pushed on screen. 

The movie character I had the biggest problem with was Violet. On the page, Violet is portrayed as a stereotypical popular girl, who is friendly and sweet, despite the trauma she’s been through. On screen, however, she is portrayed as heartless and moody. Book Violet and Movie Violet had so much contrast that they seemed like entirely different characters. The only time I felt any attachment to Violet as an audience member was at the climax of the movie towards the end, which is far too late for the audience to feel a connection. 

Though Finch’s character was less of a disaster, it is still a whole other can of worms. The issue with his portrayal was the lack of context. Readers meet both of his parents, which gives quite a bit of insight on Finch’s character and what would eventually lead to struggles with mental illness, like the abusive relationship with his father. 

In the movie, we meet neither, and Finch’s background is barely defined. Not to mention, his evolving depression is very clearly described in the novel and is almost entirely ignored in the movie. Because of this, it comes to an end on a twist (and not a good one), completely negating the book’s slow and deliberate descent into the unavoidable.

I do have to say, though, I appreciate the attention to (some) detail that producers had. Violet’s glasses, Finch’s vintage jacket and the deep, sanguine color of his room are all important details that I’m glad were not left out. Those details don’t make up for the painful plot problems, though. 

Overall, this predictable and tacky movie was a far cry from Niven’s literary masterpiece. I was beyond disappointed in the adaptation after having such high hopes. Needless to say, this is a story where I would recommend skipping the movie and reaching straight for the novel, instead.