What is the best way to deal with the grief of losing a family member?
That is the question asked by The Sky Is Everywhere, the latest film from Josephine Decker. The film’s answer seems to be that the first step is to have a quirky grandma who paints and a stoner uncle who is somewhat inevitably played by Jason Segel and to live in a big, rambling house that, in the real world, you probably wouldn’t be able to afford to keep up. The second step is to be a member of the band at one of those weird high schools where everyone loves the band kids as opposed to finding them to be insufferably pretentious. The third step is to have a chance to win admission to Julliard but only if you can play through your grief. Finally, find yourself a bland and non-threatening love interest who is supposed to be a musical prodigy. If you can complete those four steps, you might just make it!
The Sky Is Everywhere, which is based on a YA novel that I have not read, stars Grace Kaufman as Lennie Walker, who was extremely close to her sister, Bailey (played, in flashbacks and fantasy sequences, by Havana Rose Liu). At one point, Lennie explains that she always felt like she was “a show pony” whenever she was next to her sister and that she never really had any identity outside of being Bailey’s supportive sister. But then Bailey dropped dead while at rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet so Lennie has to find her own identity and decide whether to date the aforementioned bland musician, Joe Fontaine (played by Jacques Coliman), or Bailey’s ex-boyfriend, Toby (Pico Alexander). Lennie’s real name, by the way, is Lennon and I assume she’s named after John Lennon because that’s just the type of film that The Sky Is Everywhere Is. What if Lennie’s parents had been fans of the Starlight Vocal Band and decided to name her Taffy? Would she still be the first chair clarinetist? It’s something to think about.
(Also, who was Bailey named after? I’m going to guess Connecticut political boss John Bailey.)
Grandma Walker (played by Cherry Jones) is a painter who keeps insisting that it’s time to pack up Bailey’s things. Grandma also has a gigantic garden, one that is full of roses. When Lennie and Joe listen to music together, they’re suddenly floating through the air and surrounded by Grandma’s flowers. When it comes time for Grandma to finally express her grief over losing Bailey, she does so by destroying the least favorite of her paintings. “Not my best work,” as Grandma puts it. But, to be honest, all of Grandma’s paintings suck so I have to wonder how she managed to narrow down her least favorite painting to just one. Does Grandma make her living as a painter? I guess so, since Jason Segel’s Uncle Big doesn’t really do much other than smoke weed and pick bugs off his windshield.
Anyway, I suppose this film was made with good intentions but it’s just too overwritten, overdirected, and overly quirky. For a film that deals with grief, there’s really not a single authentic moment to be found in the film. A huge part of the problem is that, though we always hear everyone talking about Bailey, we never really know who Bailey was. The same is true of Lennie, who is on-screen all of the time but who always just seems like a collection of YA quirks. She reads Wuthering Heights (presumably because she and Bailey are meant to be like the Bronte sisters). She plays the clarinet. She likes to walk among the redwoods and she writes messages on leaves. These are all legitimate interests but they’re not a personality. They’re not an identity. It’s hard not to compare this film to something like CODA, where Ruby’s love of singing and her love for her family were all a big part of her life but they weren’t the only things that defined who she was as a person. Ruby was an individual, which is something that really can’t be said for any of the characters in The Sky Is Everywhere. Since none of the characters feel real, there’s no emotional authenticity to any of the big moments. Instead, it just feels like we’re watching people who learned how to talk and act by watching other YA adaptations.
The Sky Is Everywhere tries so I guess it deserves a half-star for that. But, in the end, it doesn’t add up too much.