Youth is precious, you should enjoy it.Carol Burnett, All Together Now
Release Date: August 28th, 2020 | Director: Brett Haley
All Together Now follows Amber Appleton, an extremely optimistic singer who practically keeps her school running. She appears to be on every committee at school; she works in a nursing home and holds down a part-time job at a doughnut shop. But Amber has a secret. After the death of her father, she and her mother (a raging alcoholic) are homeless. As the movie commences, Amber and her mother are living on a school bus. Amber’s singing talent attracts a talent scout at Carnegie Mellon’s theater program, placing stress on Amber to raise enough money for the plane ticket there. As Amber’s mother grows more desperate to earn money, she considers returning to an abusive ex-boyfriend, alienating Amber who refuses to live with the man. All the trauma leads to Amber’s inability to sing. As Amber’s optimism begins to desert her, only her friends can help her find her way back.
I was drawn to this movie mostly for Auli’i Cravalho. Her potential as an actress seemed to shine in Moana and I figured that any movie she was in after that would allow her to explore her range. This did prove to be true in All Together Now. Cravalho’s character, Amber, goes through the five stages of grief and the movie gives her ample time to explore these different stages. This movie is interesting in terms of character development because many scenes don’t require dialogue. Cravalho’s true talent is emoting. Her face conveys a myriad of different emotions and she manages to make each one convincing to a fault. Her dialogue is delivered with fervor and it’s easy to believe that Cravalho has truly become her character. She is truly a shining star in this movie and as the movie went on, I became increasingly excited to see her in other things.
The story behind this movie is truly interesting, but at times felt a little too much like trauma porn. I almost felt like I was reading a college essay that had been dramatized for shock factors and sympathy. While I understand that the audience is meant to feel sympathy for Amber’s character, it felt like the screenwriter decided to dump tragedy upon tragedy on this girl and excuse it as evidence that her life really sucks. I think that had the movie chosen to focus on Amber’s homelessness in conjunction with her mother’s alcoholism, the movie would’ve been much more believable. The tone of this movie is also a bit inconsistent. The majority of the movie is somber despite Amber’s innate optimism but the last fifteen minutes just skyrocket to this gleeful tone. This quick tone shift gave me whiplash. The ending is also extremely unbelievable and I would’ve much preferred to see a realistic handling of the situation in a manner would have still been happy but could have tampered the miracle quality of the ending.
The only other criticism I have with this movie is the relationship between Amber and her friends. The movie focuses on Amber without delving too much into her relationship with the other characters, including Ty, the boy she has a crush on. We see all of these characters in conjunction to Amber which would be fine if we got to know them in any other manner. We never really see past one flimsy character trait in order to appreciate the movie. I would’ve liked to know more about why Amber likes Ty besides him being cute and kind. What drew her to him? Even the best friend that Amber lives with (whose name I seriously never bothered to learn) has no character trait besides liking puns. Why does Amber trust these people? What drew her to trusting them with her secret? The world may never know.
Overall, this movie is a good movie. I know that it doesn’t necessarily seem like it from what I’ve written but I truly believe that Cravalho saves the movie from descending into utterly unwatchable territory. She plays her character with an intensity that I hope she continues to bring to future roles. The story itself is fine if you can handle the tone shift (which is probably not THAT noticeable to be honest and I’m just picky) and if you have a box of tissues. The one caveat I have about stories that fall under the “trauma porn” category is that it perpetuates a narrative that people with severe trauma are the only ones who deserve happy miracles in their lives. The idea that you have to suffer to this extent in order to be worthy of the help of your friends isn’t healthy for the target audience. I recommend this movie if you’re in need of a good cry and if you want to hear Auli’i Cravalho sing (which is the real allure of this movie).